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Inside Llewyn Davis

The Coen Brothers’ newest is a melancholy ­ballad to struggling artists

"If it’s not new, but it never gets old, it’s a folksong.” So Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac: Won’t Back Down) tells his audiences. The songs may never get old, but the lifestyle of a folk singer does.
    A committed and uncompromising artist barely getting by, Davis is content to couch-surf around 1960s’ New York, depending on the kindness of his musician buddies and the two fans he has in the world. He’s got talent, he’s got drive, but not the career he believes he deserves.
    Toting a guitar, a cat and a chip on his shoulder, he begins a journey that will leave him questioning what he’s doing with his life.
    Inside Llewyn Davis is a ballad to all who — despite talent and drive — never reached their bright-lights-big-city dreams. Like a folksong, it’s a haunting, often sad story about a figure otherwise lost to history.
    Directors Joel and Ethan Coen (True Grit) capture the Bohemian feel of 1960s’ Greenwich Village, painstakingly recreating dirty clubs and grungy clothing.
    Isaac gives a masterful performance as a troubled soul quick to judge careerist peers for selling out by writing silly pop songs for gain. Yet Isaac makes Llewyn more complicated than his pedantic nature would suggest. He’s talented and often kind, he just can’t seem to get out of his own way. Isaac’s presence on screen is such that at his lowest point, you root for Davis to find his audience.
    Also starring is the music lovingly put together by music producer extraordinaire T-Bone Burnett (Nashville). Music performed by Peter, Paul and Mary, Bob Dylan and Elizabethan minstrels is mined for emotional depth as it sets the tone and propels the story. Each performance you see in the film was recorded live, so it’s full of excitement and emotion rather than studio tricks.

Great Drama • R • 105 mins.