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The Coens play it again

“Inside Llewyn Davis”, a film about a folk singer whose songs you’re not likely to forget

Nicholas Barber | January/February 2014

Curious thing, soundtrack albums. "The Bodyguard" was a phenomenon. "Trainspotting" helped define the Britpop era. But how many CDs subtitled "Music from the Motion Picture" are ever taken out of their cases a year after the films have come and gone? One contender is the gorgeous bluegrass and gospel album derived from the Coen brothers' "O Brother, Where Art Thou?". And now the Coens have added a second entry to that very short list—"Inside Llewyn Davis". 

The film is a punishingly bleak but hootingly funny tragicomedy about a luckless folk singer, played by Oscar Isaac. He trudges around Greenwich Village in the freezing winter of 1961, sleeping on friends' (and enemies') couches, and failing to make much headway in a world that has yet to be flipped upside down by Bob Dylan. Llewyn Davis's life may be a purgatory of botched opportunities, but his acoustic repertoire (executive-produced by T-Bone Burnett, who also compiled "O Brother", with help this time from Marcus Mumford of Mumford & Sons) is almost too bewitching for him to convince as the frazzled failure he's supposed to be. If his chances of a hit record look dismally slight in the Coens' fictional 1960s, he should get on better in the real world, half a century later. ~ Nicholas Barber

Inside Llewyn Davis British release Jan 24th

 

FILM AT A GLANCE

The Railway Man The trueish story of Eric Lomax, the war veteran who confronted the Japanese officer who had tortured him decades earlier. Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman are touching as a very English survivor and his doggedly supportive wife; Jeremy Irvine is uncanny as Firth’s younger self.

Her In Spike Jonze’s sci-fi-tinged comedy-drama, a heartbroken writer (Joaquin Phoenix) falls in love with his computer-operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). It’s more romantic than most Hollywood affairs, even if one of the participants isn’t human.

The Wolf of Wall Street Martin Scorsese's fifth film with Leonardo DiCaprio promises to be the most purely pleasurable. It’s the splashy tale of Jordan Belfort, a hedonistic stock swindler who spent nearly as many millions as he stole.

The Armstrong Lie Alex Gibney ("Wikileaks: We Steal Secrets") interviewed Lance Armstrong in 2009 and again in 2013, so he got both the fibs and the truth about one of sport's greatest frauds. What he didn't get was any contrition.

The Dallas Buyers Club (Feb 7th). Matthew McConaughey’s Lazarus-like revival continues (see also "The Wolf of Wall Street") with this dynamic true-life drama. He plays an HIV-positive homophobe who smuggles unlicensed AIDS medication into 1990s Texas.

Only Lovers Left Alive (Feb 21st). Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston are impeccably pale and cheekbony as married vampires in Jim Jarmusch’s sly comic reverie. Like its centuries-old protagonists, the film is in no hurry, but there's langorous fun to be had from the contention that vampires are simply too refined and tasteful for the 21st century. ~ NB

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