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Title: Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
Directed: Joel and Ethan Coen
Available: on Netflix
Brief Synopsis: In 1961 New York City, a folk singer named Llewyn Davis struggles to keep both his career and life afloat.
Aggregate Scores: 7.5 IMDb 93% Rotten Tomatoes
Review: The Coen Brothers have enjoyed over 30 years of both critical and commercial success, most notably with films like Fargo and No Country for Old Men. An unintended consequence of this is that excellence becomes expected and even taken for granted. Inside Llewyn Davis is an example of this, as it is not only an excellent film, but one that belongs in the conversation for the Coen's very best.
Vivid set pieces that compliment the story are key to any Coen film, and ILD is no exception. Set in New York's famed Greenwich Village in the cold, harsh winter of 1961, the directors (and cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel) are able to balance two different feelings. First, they are able to make the audience accept that the events are taking place in 1961 through excellent costume and set design. Secondly, the film emits an overwhelming feeling of nostalgia and wistfulness, making us feel like we know this world. The film seems like a hazy, distant memory unfolding before us. This is done by keeping the colours grey, and minimizing the lighting. Shadows crawl around the edges of the frame, surrounding Llewyn during his travels, which are devoid of colour. This reminds the audience of Llewyn's struggles, both in his career and personal life.
Another key component of a good Coen film is dark humour. There is something cathartic about being able to laugh at pain and misfortune, which is lucky since Llewyn carries this in spades. Llewyn stumbles through every challenge in his life, such as ruining things permanently with his girlfriend, angering his only fans, and constantly losing a tabby cat in his care. While travelling with another musician (played by John Goodman - another Coen staple), Llewyn is informed that his deceased folksinger partner, Mike, was wrong to have jumped off the George Washington Bridge, since everyone knows it's supposed to be the Brooklyn Bridge! It seems that Llewyn can't do anything right. ILD fosters the Coen's bleakest, most acerbic humour yet.
At the heart of the film is its sound. For a film that is all about music and a musician's struggle, it thankfully has an exceptional soundtrack. This allows for Llewyn to epitomize the struggling artist. Llewyn is too good to be a hack and sell out, yet is he good enough to pioneer folk music and do it his way? He is too arrogant and confident to listen to anyone else, yet is too fragile to push himself outside his comfort zone. This is the crossroads that Llewyn – and every other artist – faces. With IDL, the Coens take a sobering look at the pursuit of art, and the artists who suffer for their craft.