Hop into a cinematic masterpiece, yes I said masterpiece, by one of the most profound film duos in the business today. The Coen Brothers, directors of iconic films such as Fargo, O Brother Where Art Thou?, and No Country For Old Men, bring us a lesser known gem to represent the Coen’s masterful style of visual splendor and black comedy to the screen about the Greenwich Village folk music scene in the early 1960’s. Oscar Isaac (Ex Machina & The Force Awakens) is a starving artist and folk singer before the times of Bob Dylan and other genre pioneers of that time. With incredible cinematography by Bruno Delbonnel, rather than their guy Roger Deakins, the Coens submerge us into a world that is very much their own while providing a story any artist can relate to in their lowest moments.
The trademarks the Coens are known don’t go anywhere during this period piece story and yet this is perhaps their most personal story they’ve brought to the big screen. Submersive in all the right ways with a stellar performance by its lead as well as classic supporting cast that includes a Coens staple in John Goodman as well as, Justin Timberlake, Adam Driver, Garrett Hedlund, F. Murray Abraham, and Carey Mulligan. Classically fusing multiple genres within a main genre as well as storylines galore, none of them become jumbled or lost from the main points of the film. Darkly comedic while having you gain an equal amount of sympathy for our lead, whom would normally be unlikable, is all the credit to Isaac for bringing a humanity to a down on his luck folk singer.
I’d be remiss to mention all the incredibly poetic music that is played live for the takes and the impact it has on the stories structure. Being given a nearly flawless cast member in Isaac allowed the Coens to mine the talented guitarist and singer and put those talents to the best use possible. While the film is far from a musical, it delivers a stage presence that you would see in a musical or music concert without it feeling unnatural. Isaac’s emotions and folksy vocals are a treat for the senses in more ways than one. Like the songs he sings, stories and feelings are puppeteered through the beautiful melodies many folk singers were capable of doing centuries prior.
This is not a literal “feel good” film, but you feel good watching it. This is a film about hardship and failure, but maybe because it’s a coping mechanism, we laugh through Llewyn’s struggles. Captivating and incredibly indie, it’s a film by the directing duo that may be the indie film’s biggest heroes when it comes to small budgets, stellar stories, and a large as life way about it. It was added to the prestigious criterion collection last year and deserves it and more. I hope you all get a chance to experience this quirky, darkly funny homage to folk music, and the art of cinema.