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Wick's Review

Created Dec 27, 2013 12:31AM PST • Edited Jun 10, 2017 08:24AM PST

  1. Quality
  2. Perfect 5.0

    The Coen Brothers latest is one of their best, strong praise indeed for the creators of classics that include The Big Lebowski, Intolerable Cruelty and Miller’s Crossing. Yet their evocation of a fictionalized early Sixties folk scene is pitch perfect. Star turns, outstanding songs and more than a few laughs elevate Inside Llewyn Davis into their pantheon and easily make it one of the great movies of 2013.

    Hear the whistle blow 500 miles, Inside Llewyn Davis is in the pantheon now, away from home no more.

    Oscar Isaac cuts an indelible figure and sings strongly as fictional folk singer Llewyn Davis, a cross of Bob Dylan’s affectations and Gordon Lightfoot’s intonations. Both conception and execution are spot on. Crazy Heart’s Bad Blake comes to mind, another faux legend whose music was written by T-Bone Burnett, who comes up with a set of songs for Oscar Isaac every bit as perfect as those he came up with for Jeff Bridges. Hang Me, Oh Hang Me stands up to Fallin’ & Flyin’ in a folkie kind of way. So do the rest. Fare Thee Well

    Carey Mulligan & Justin Timberlake etch indelible creations as fellow folkies who have very complicated relationships with Llewyn, who’s a survivor in the end. OK, he’s an asshole, or “shit” as Mulligan’s pregnant lover calls him. Timberlake performs two terrific songs: evocative folk classic Five Hundred Miles and clever goof Please Mr. Kennedy, the first a heartbreakingly beautiful duet with Mulligan. The Prince of Pop teams up with Oscar Isaac and a hillbilly doo-wop third singer on the comically subversive Please Mr. Kennedy. At career end, Mulligan & Timberlake will look back proudly on these fine performances.

    Joel & Ethan Coen long ago reached a level of moviemaking accomplishment both stunningly assured and conceptually quick-witted. Inside Llewyn Davis exemplifies those virtues, a fictionalized lens into 1961 America more vivid than an exceptionally well-wrought folk song come to life. T-Bone, Oscar, Carey, Justin and all the rest join Joel & Ethan in having wrought a great American movie of the highest order.

    Inside Llewyn Davis deserves to be awarded the Purple Perfect Icon — 5 out of 5. Movies get no better.

  3. Really Great 4.5

    Oscar Isaac inhabits Llewyn Davis to his very soul: a careerist, self-centered soul, but one cloaked in well-worn folkie trappings and possessing of an Americana voice of the first order. Isaac himself is an actor of the first order, scary macho in Drive, he’s diffident to a fault as a faux Dylan doppelgänger.

    Carey Mulligan is heartbreakingly good as his sometime lover, her sinuous singing voice a sweet treat. Mulligan starred in Drive, with Isaac as her malevolent boyfriend. Here he’s more pain than threat.

    Justin Timberlake sings like an angel as her boyfriend. Issues! Their Five Hundred Miles duet is easy listening extraordinaire. Timberlake’s singing stardom shines through there and on the subversively great Please Mr. Kennedy. His strong acting chops allows him to handle his minimal part in the drama with ease.

    The vast supporting cast includes a panoply of perfect little performances, with the Great Goodman’s foremost among them.

    • Ethan Phillips as a Colombia sociology professor, who lives on the Upper West Side. Natch.
    • Robin Bartlett as his angelic wife
    • Max Casella as the owner of The Gaslight, the Greenwich Village folk citadel
    • Jerry Grayson as a lazy gonif of a Manager
    • Jeanine Serralles as his gnomic secretary
    • Adam Driver as another desperate folk singer
    • Stark Sands as a blandly successful folk singer
    • John Goodman as an acerbic jazz musician. The Great Goodman is a Coen Brothers fave. He repays their confidence in spades.
    • Garrett Hedlund as his Cassidy-esque driver
    • Upper West Side dinner guests include Alex Karpovsky & Helen Hong, Bradley Mott and Michael Rosner & Bonnie Rose.
    • Jack O’Connell as a New Yorker Elevator Attendant
    • Ricardo Cordero as a no-nonsense bouncer
    • F. Murray Abraham as a Chicago impresario. Abraham rarely disappoints and doesn’t here, the kind of actor who fills up a scene just by appearing in it.
  4. Male Stars Perfect 5.0
  5. Female Stars Really Great 4.5
  6. Female Costars Great 4.0
  7. Male Costars Perfect 5.0
  8. Perfect 5.0

    Inside Llewyn Davis rolls off the tongue like The Freewheeling Bob Dylan. Nor does it seem random that the Coen Brothers gave their lead character an internal Y in his name. Making him Welsh on his seagoing Father’s side gives him a blue collar authenticity that his inspiration lacked. Bob Zimmerman had to appropriate his Welsh name and workingman tales from strangers.

    Inside Llewyn Davis enters the Coen Brothers Canon alongside Intolerable Cruelty, The Big Lebowski, Barton Fink and Millers Crossing.

    Kosher for Passover is an interesting credit citation.

  9. Direction Perfect 5.0
  10. Play Perfect 5.0
  11. Music Perfect 5.0

    Llewyn Davis ends up being more Gordon Lightfoot than Bob Dylan however, as a singer-songwriter anyway. Simply constructed, well crafted, elegiac folk songs are his metier, not intricately versed obscurely referenced tone poems.

    Set right before folk was revealed as not being able to move forward because of its reverence for the past.

  12. Visuals Really Great 4.5

    The credits cite a dozen set decorators. They must’ve been busy.

    The two animal wranglers must’ve herded the cats.

  13. Content
  14. Risqué 2.0

    More rude than violent, and more graphically violent than graphically sexy.

  15. Sex Innocent 1.5
  16. Violence Fierce 1.8
  17. Rudeness Profane 2.8
  18. Glib 1.4

    ILD tweaks its own Left Wing affectations, a bolt of cinematic honesty that is perhaps the Coen Brothers greatest accomplishment. To wit…

    Please Mr. Kennedy works on several levels, one of which is to imagine late-Sixties’ cynical protest songs at the start of the decade, some several years before their acerbic POV hit a peak during the anti-war movement. Please Mr. Kennedy proves that such reflexive cynicism can poison any national endeavor, including JFK’s Space Program. “What are you rebelling against?” Brando was asked in The Wild One. “Whadda you got?” he replied. Here it’s NASA. IOW, nothing’s sacred became the ethos of the Left Wing counter-culture the Folkies helped create.

    Please Mr. Kennedy also works as a brilliant pop novelty song. How great that it’s sung by Justin Timberlake, the Presidential Popstar. However, I can only take it in small doses, feeling the need to leave it off my Best of Llewyn Davis playlist.

    On abortion, notice how they obfuscate their language, never using the word “baby”.

    Further regarding language, the iconic folkie accuses everyone around him of being “corporatist”, when it is he who is all-in on his business crusade. It just so happens that his business is show business.

    Finally, he’s a self-centered asshole who sees no need to circumscribe his language around kids, an element of the freewheeling style that soon coarsened our culture from end to end, making life worse for countless kids as a result. Fare thee well, indeed.

  19. Circumstantial Surreal 2.2
  20. Biological Natural 1.0
  21. Physical Natural 1.0

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