The Coen Brothers’ latest flick Inside Llewyn Davis stays true to the duo’s signature cambric-colored melancholy. The story of protagonist Llewyn Davis’ journey as a struggling musician in the ’60s presents a fresh crop of beautifully written folk music. It sheds new light on a genre that’s lost some of its mass popularity by giving it the gritty, human texture only the Coen Brothers can create.
Wisely cast, Oscar Isaac perfectly embodies Davis’ sadly discordant internal harmony. Markedly, Isaac is no stranger to musicianship himself—he graduated from Julliard in 2005 and has since co-formed several bands/duos. Perhaps his brilliant performance can be attributed to the fact that he’s faced some of the same issues in his own life as a musician as Davis’ character does. Loosely based on the life of Dave Van Ronk, throughout the film Davis tries to decide between what seems like two very miserable options: the endless drudgery of responsible life and discarded dreams or continuing the drudgery of pursuing dreams that, perhaps, should have been given up long ago.
As a musician, Isaac’s early sound with his first band the Blinking Underdogs had a ska vibe. Over the years he has certainly evolved into a more contemporary folk musician. Typically, in Isaac’s real life musical duo NightLab (co- formed with Brian Ferguson) his voice tends between a gentle alto and a melodic sounding tenor. Yet in the film, Isaac’s voice is beautiful in its rasping, “used up” quality. It’s as though he has just enough song left in him to captivate the listener.
Isaac’s beautiful contemporary folk renditions are beyond moving. Isaac’s brooding introspection shines across in songs like Last Thing On My Mind as he croons “…well I could’ve loved you better, didn’t mean to be unkind, you know that wasn’t the last thing on my mind…” alluding to some of Davis’ sad regrets. The film’s soundtrack includes other tracks like Hedy Wests 500 Miles and Joan Baez’s The Death of Queen Jane and is a certified compilation of epically awesome contemporary folk music.
Songs like “Fare Thee Well“ and the film’s ending score “Oh Hang Me, Oh Hang Me“ harken back to the directors’ last musical triumph. When the Coen Brothers released O Brother Where Art Thou in 2000 it took home The Grammy for Album of the Year. Check out Inside Llewyn Davis or pick up a copy of the soundtrack playing in theatres now