Controversially overlooked in this year’s race for both Best Picture and Best Actor awards at the Oscars, the Coen Brothers’ latest offering feels a much more personal project than previous offerings True Grit or Burn After Reading, more in line with 2009’s A Serious Man. However, don’t let that put you off. Reduced in scale it may be, but in terms of substance this is one of their best films yet (and with a back catalogue that also includes Big Lebowski, No Country For Old Men and my personal favourite The Hudsucker Proxy, that is saying a lot).
The film maps a week in the life of folk singer Llewyn Davis (played by a superb Oscar Isaac) struggling to make ends meet in 1960s New York following the suicide of his songwriting partner. Out of money, out of sorts and out of luck, he is forced to rely on the kindness of his long-suffering friends – sleeping on sofas and cadging gigs where he can – as he makes a last-ditch attempt to fulfil his dreams.
The supporting cast is fantastic – including Carey Mulligan and Justin Timberlake as fellow folk singers and Coen-regular John Goodman. However, this is Oscar Isaac’s film from start to finish – his understated performance is summed up by the fact that regardless of how many times he screwed up, I still found myself rooting for him to succeed. And he can actually sing.
A lilting paean to the folk scene of the 1960s, this film is as funny as it is tragic. If you don’t mind your films a little bit downbeat, go see it…