This is the Greenwich Village described by Bob Dylan in his memoir Chronicles — brutally cold and damp, unforgiving in the way only an urban jungle can be. Llewen Davis, as portrayed by Oscar Isaac, reveals a timeless cliché: the egocentric “artist,” careening insolently from one self-induced disaster to the next while flaunting a sense of entitlement that is completely undeserved. The guy is, in a word, an asshole — a fact that bitter, accidentally knocked-up Jean (Carey Mulligan) never lets him forget. As a music guy, I respect that all the music performances were shot and recorded live, not enhanced with post-production tricks. Most music films are so far off base they make my skin crawl. There are some cool songs — most of which are rendered top to bottom — as well as a couple-a funny send-ups. However, I heard nothing extraordinary, composition- or talent-wise. I’d recommend that Isaac not give up his day job. He’s a fine actor but an average singer-songwriter.
The performance that justifies the price of a ticket is delivered by John Goodman. With this cane-wielding, junkie jazz musician, the Coens have once again invented a character for Goodman that dominates the screen with unpredictable, genuinely frightening, sickly hilarious power. In this extraordinary turn, Goodman rivals, perhaps even surpasses, his appearances in Raising Arizona and Big Lebowski.
Inside Llewen Davis lacks the charm or brilliant cartoon quality of Oh, Brother, Fargo, or Intolerable Cruelty. It’s an expertly made small film with no heroes and some listenable music. If you’re hankerin’ for a dark, chilly, cheerless tale in which nearly everyone’s a self-serving dick, this is just the movie for you.
5 out of 10 stars