DIRECTORS: Joel and Ethan Coen
CAST: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, Garret Hedlund, Justin Timberlake and F Murray Abrahams
RUNNING TIME: 105 minutes
RATING: ****


INTRIGUING ensemble casting around a not-so-nice anti-hero, plus first-rate music and a meandering storyline: it must be a Coen brothers production.

Largely plotless (except for the bit about the cat), this comedy- drama set in Greenwich Village circa 1961 gives us a week in the life of folk singer Llewyn Davis (Isaac) for an intensely forlorn, yet delicately affecting experience.

Llewyn (no one calls him by his surname, more often using swear words when addressing him) is down and out, living on various acquaintances’ couches and drifting along, seemingly aimless.

He may just have impregnated his friend, but don’t tell her boy- friend because Llewyn needs to work with him. He heckles other musicians when he drinks too much – which is all the time – and he badly needs work.

Llewyn is trying to make it as a folk musician, and everyone agrees he is talented, it’s just that Llewyn is such a sh*t to everyone. The nub of the matter is, he will simply not compromise his artistic integrity, and is in a melancholic mood.

His dejection is palpable and understandable, to the point where you just have to feel sorry for him, especially since you as the audi- ence are privy to why he is so depressed, unlike the Bud Grossman (F Murray Abrahams) character who tells him: “I’m not hearing any money here.”

Isaac gives a compelling performance, creating an artist whose very stubborn faith in his art attracts your eye even as his pride repels you.

T-Bone Burnett’s score is an extension of the work he did on O Brother, Where Art Thou? – it is the folk music of the Greenwich Village scene, which in the early 1960s featured music from across America, though apparently not actually from New York. Justin Timberlake’s vocal range is exploited really well, though you only realise that afterwards.

Isaac, Timberlake, Carey Mulligan and Adam Driver ably perform their own songs and the musical choices are very important. From the first song, Hang Me, Oh Hang Me, to his last performance of Fare Thee Well, Llewyn is saying goodbye to all he loves, because he knows he cannot continue the way he is going, but he cannot do it any other way either.

Though the lead character is partly inspired by a real person, it is not a biography by any stretch, and this Greenwich Village set is not the rowdy, vibrant, competitive place so often portrayed in movies. The Coen brothers’ version is grey and rainy and poetically miserable, suiting Llewyn’s mood to a T.

Cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel takes over from Coen brothers regular Roger Deakin, using very little camera movement with almost no hand-held camera- work. This emphasises performance over story/plot movement and the various characters popping up.

A laconic beat poet (Hedlund), a rude jazz musician (Goodman), some eccentric hippy type friends with good hearts and several cats who do their own thing are memorable.

If you liked A Serious Man or O Brother, Where Art Thou? you will like this.