Watching the trailer here for the first time reminded me just how much I loved Inside Llewyn Davis. It’s a real gem from Ethan and Joel Coen, easily up there with their best. I think it was my favourite at LFF this year, though it had some strong competition.
Llewyn Davis (a beautifully gentle performance from Oscar Isaac, rocking a corduroy jacket and beard in the sexiest way possible) is a folk singer in 60s New York. Newly solo after losing his singing partner, he’s flirting with a solo career, reluctant to give up the chance of success. This vague hope is all that he has – Davis has never really grown up. It’s as though he is expecting success to make him a man, and the lack of it has stunted his emotional development. He doesn’t have a home, relying on friends to put him up on their lumpy couches and helping himself from their larders. When he’s rude to one friend, he just moves onto the next, assuming that they’ll have forgotten how rude he was last time he outstayed his welcome. They usually have, there’s a charm in Davis that seems to carry him through. And which carries him a bit too far when impregnates one half of a folk duo (Carey Mulligan and Justin Timberlake, also rocking tremendous jumpers).
There’s a heavy sense of what might have been about Davis, he’s a man who can see off any glimmer of hope that appears, leaving a trail of self-pity in its wake. It’s as if he has failed so much in life that he expects nothing else, and soaks up each new blow with the stolidity of a boxer. You’re torn between wanting him to make a success of things, and thinking that he really doesn’t deserve to.
That all makes it sound a bit sombre, but fear not – the Coens have filled the darkness with plenty of their trademark humour as well as some memorable performances (John Goodman pops up as a frankly quite terrifying jazz musician). The songs are perfect and will make you want to listen to folk music, at least for a short while, when you leave the cinema. If you can sit through Hey Mr Kennedy without giggling and tapping your foot then you’re dead inside. There’s a great cat too, which for a while lets Davis show his caring side. Only for a while though.
Inside Llewyn Davis is nothing short of wonderful – I hope Oscars shower upon it.
You know, this isn’t a bad film. It’s gripping, smartly directed by Ben Affleck (his third directorial outing) and studded with great performances from some of the best character actors in the business. It thrilled the crowd at LFF (who at once point burst into spontaneous applause) and is being spoken of in the hushed tones reserved for Oscar favourites. Yet I find myself not really wanting to give it a rave review.
Argo is based on the true story of six US citizens taken hostage in Tehran in 1979. They are holed up in the Canadian embassy but the Islamic militants are closing in and the American government need to find a way to get them out quickly. The CIA’s Tony Mendez (played by a miscast Affleck) has a plan – to sneak them out of the country by pretending to be a Canadian movie crew scouting locations for Argo, a sci-fi production. It’s a bit of a bonkers one, as plans go, but without any other realistic options, he gets the go ahead and with the support of his CIA boss Jack O’Donnell (the wonderful Bryan Cranston) and the help of Hollywood make-up genius John Chambers and producer Lester Seigel (John Goodman and Alan Arkin, both great as always), the plan comes together.
Affleck builds the tension expertly and not without some clever touches of humour, and by the climactic scene at the end, you genuinely will find yourself on the edge of your seat. It’s all a little bit formulaic for me though, there are too many of those annoying ‘just in time’ moments and some unneccessary cheese (cute Mendez jnr playing with his space toys? No thanks). But I think the biggest bum note is Affleck who never feels quite right as Mendez – he just isn’t grizzled enough to make his hard working, hard drinking CIA man believable. A shame, when the rest of the cast is so strong.
So enjoyable, yes. A slick thriller, yes. But a great film? Not really. It feels like there is a much stronger story in here somewhere that hasn’t been allowed to blossom. Affleck clearly has the potential to do much better (maybe when he isn’t trying so hard to get an Oscar).