Much like the somber melodies that float throughout its 105-minute runtime, Inside Llewyn Davis will remain lodged in your head weeks after you and the film first meet. With Oscar Isaac's "Fare thee we-e-ell..." ringing daintily in your ears, you'll shuffle out from the grasp of the Coen Brothers' wonderland of gray, but you won't soon be able to relieve yourself of what is arguable the pair's best film yet. Llewyn's is a story so outstandingly simple — he's a man who's s**t out of luck, and not especially deserving of any. He wakes up, loses his friend's cat, plays some music, and wishes things were better. And yet his is the Coens' most invigorating and deftly human tale yet.
Llewyn Davis makes the bold, but practical, choice of never insisting that we love its hero. He's effectively a jackass, justifying all the waste he has incurred with the rudeness he showers on the majority of those in his acquaintance. But Llewyn Davis isn't the villain here, either. The villain is the industry, and all the uphill battles inherent to its machinations. The villain isn't Llewyn's substantially more successful contacts — an old pal Jim (Justin Timberlake) and new fellow couch-surfer Troy (Stark Sands), but the listening public that prefers their saccharine pop to his dreary drips of misery. The villain isn't Llewyn's resentful old flame Jean (Carey Mulligan), no matter how many volatile admonitions she might shoot his way, but the act of God surrounding their unwitting adherence to one another. And it's not even the cantankerous and foul Roland Turner (a delightfully hammy John Goodman), but the endless, frigid open road of which each man is a prisoner (if the film has one flaw, it's that this segment carries on just a bit too long, but that might very well be the point). The villain is the cold.
Call it all a raw deal. But the real dynamism isn't in the challenges that happen outside Llewyn Davis, but in the determined toxicity brewing inside as he meets each and every one.
But this isn't the Coen Brothers' Murphy's Law comedy A Serious Man — we don't watch a chaotic pileup of every imaginable trick that the devil can manage to pull. Llewyn is steady throughout, not burying Llewyn deeper but keeping him on the ground, with the fruit-bearing branches forever out of his reach. In its narrative, Llewyn Davis is as close to natural life as any of the filmmakers' works to date. Perfectly exhibited in a late scene involving a trip to Akron, Llewyn isn't a cinematic construct, but the sort of person we know, so painfully, that we are very likely to be... on our bad days.
Still, working in such a terrific harmony with the grounded feel of Llewyn himself, we have that Coen whimsy in their delivery of 1960s New York City — rather, a magic kingdom painted in the stellar form of a 1960s New York City. And not the New York City we're given by the likes of Martin Scorsese or Woody Allen. Closer, maybe, to Spike Lee or Sydney Lumet, but still a terrain unique to moviegoers. A New York that's always recovering from a hostile rain, and always promising another 'round the bend. One that flickers like a dying bulb, with its million odd beleaguered moths buzzing around it against the pull of logic. There is something so incredibly alive about the Coens' crying city; this hazy dream world's partnership with half-dead, anchored-to-earth portrait like Llewyn is the product of such sophisticated imagination at play.
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And to cap this review of one of the best features 2013 has given us, it's only appropriate to return to the element in which its identity is really cemented: the music. Without the tunes bobbing through the story, we'd still likely find something terrific in Llewyn Davis. But the music, as beautiful as it is, is the reason for the story. As we watch Isaac's hopeless sad sack drag himself through Manhattan's winter, past the helping hands of friends and into the grimaces of strangers, as we struggle with our own handfuls of nihilistic skepticism that any of this yarn is worth the agony (or that our attention to its meandering nature is worth the price of a ticket), we are given the rare treat of an answer. Of course it's all for something. Of course it's all about something. It's about that beautiful, beautiful music.
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The revered thespian died last week (22Apr10) at UCLA Medical Center after suffering complications from recent heart surgery.
Born in Ireland, Duffin was a regular on stages across America, starring in productions of works by countrymen Brendan Behan and James Joyce.
He also wrote and starred in the show The Importance of Being Irish.
As well as Titanic and Seabiscuit, the actor also appeared in Raging Bull and The Departed.
Inspired by the autobiographical novel of the same title by Brendan Behan Borstal Boy tells the story of 16-year-old Brendan who after having been caught while trying to smuggle explosive material for the IRA from Dublin to England is sent to the Borstal institution in rural Britain. There under the lenient watch of Borstal director Joyce Brendan must deal with his challenging fellow inmates who include a sexually aggressive and bullying Brit a Scotsman a Polish Jew and the likeable Milwall a self-proclaimed "queer." Also engaging Brendan's attention is Liz the artist-daughter of Joyce who with the help of the inmates establishes a studio on the Borstal grounds. Various activities like football and the mounting of an ambitious production of Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest engage the Borstal boys but they still want out. When Brendan masterminds an escape from the facility land minds on the nearby beach bring tragedy. The loss of lives pains Brendan but his emotions are passionately fired by Milwall who leaves Borstal for fateful Naval duty and by Liz who comforts Brendan when Milwall becomes another victim of the war.
Shawn Hatosy who ably manages an Irish brogue plus the occasional stutter given his character is convincing as the Irish republican Brendan though less so as the sexually ambiguous Brendan. Danny Dyer sparkles as outgoing Milwall whose colorful role as Brendan's gay best friend with thespian leanings mercifully falls short of cliche. Vet actor Michael York as Joyce has little to do but look authoritative and compassionate and Eva Birthistle as his daughter flits and flirts provocatively among the yearning boys of Borstal.
Director Peter Sheridan like award-winning brother Jim Sheridan has deep roots in theater but shows a sure hand in directing film. Sheridan delivers a very polished and disciplined production the kind of good but hardly exceptional work that deservedly floats from film festival to film festival eliciting approval from audiences and critics alike. But Sheridan's main gaffe here is to make the Borstal correctional facility seem like a cross between a British public school and a boys camp not exactly an environment from which anyone wants to escape. Apparently there are no course requirements but plenty of sports theater freedom to come and go and hardly any supervision or punishment. Even the commissary meal veggie included looks quite tasty. For the sake of credibility and drama Sheridan needed to fashion a more damning environment.