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ADVANCE: Inside Llewyn Davis - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
ADVANCE: Inside Llewyn Davis
Directing: A-
Acting: B+
Writing: A-
Cinematography: A-
Editing: A
Music: A-

There's something about Inside Llewyn Davis that is hard to shake, something difficult to put my finger on, but it's something wistful and lovely. This is a kind of movie you can't stop thinking about, well after it's over.

Set during one week in 1961, the story follows Llewyn, played by Oscar Isaac, from New York's Greenwich Village to Chicago and back. It's part folk-music period piece, part road movie. The car trip fits perfectly, as every single character in Llewyn's life is transient in one way or another; they are all much smaller, supporting parts. It feels as though they are just passing through, although it's really Llewyn himself who is the transient. He's passing through all of their lives.

Llewyn doesn't have a home, and he's crashing on couches. One of them belongs to Jean (Carey Mulligan), a very bitter young woman who is pregnant and doesn't know for sure if the baby is his. For that reason only, she wants an abortion. Another couch belongs to the parents of Llewyn's late singing partner, the one who stalled his career by jumping off the George Washington Bridge. It's never clear exactly when this happened, but it's clearly been a while. Llewyn has since recorded a solo album, which seems to have sold approximately zero copies. His trip to Chicago, hitching a ride with a quiet, rugged poet (Garrett Hedlund) and his rambling friend (Coen Brothers stalwart John Goodman), is a desperate attempt at securing a gig at a venue. A lot of time is spent with these three men in a car.

There's a sort of beautiful sadness to Llewyn's journey, conveyed largely through the songs performed by Llewyn and several others. We see them performed in Manhattan clubs, in people's homes, and on the road. They are almost exclusively accompanied only by acoustic guitar, and they make what is easily the best Coen Brothers soundtrack since O Brother, Where Art Thou? They are simple songs, although one with Justin Timberlake is rather quirky and amusing, and yet they have a consistently hypnotic quality. The movie on the whole would not be the same without them.

Joel and Ethan Coen, who as usual wrote and directed this film, have a large body of work often characterized by quirkiness and sudden bouts of surrealism. As with their last film, True Grit (2010), those characteristics are dialed back significantly here. Their sensibility is still present, but it's comparatively subtle, leaving us with a deceptively straightforward-seeming film. But every once in a while it comes back, as in a scene where a woman holds up a cat and shrieks, "Where's his scrotum!" That cat gets a bigger part than many of the people in the movie, by the way. He has no lines yet has a knack for stealing his scenes.

There's much more to Inside Llewyn Davis than what's on the surface, and it's the kind of movie one can expect to get richer upon repeat viewings. Llewyn's life has lost direction without his partner, and he manages to find places to crash with people who are more acquaintances than friends. His life has largely lost its meaning, and he wanders aimlessly without it, drifting through people who don't know how to find it for him -- and, somehow, therein this movie finds its meaning.

Oscar Isaac steps INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS.

Overall: A-

Opens Thursday December 19 at the Harvard Exit.
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