Oscar Issac in ’Inside Llewyn Davis’
Oscar Issac in 'Inside Llewyn Davis'

Llewyn Davis is a jerk, but a complex jerk at that.

The protagonist of the latest Coen Brothers tale Inside Llewyn Davis is a struggling folk musician, whose prime takes place about a week before folk music becomes cool again. He has a sharp tongue and probably a drinking problem, and pretty much everyone who knows him either hates him or will hate him soon enough.

Llewyn (played with dirty realness by relative unknown Oscar Issac) is one of those hard-headed musicians who would call themselves principled but whom mostly everyone else thinks is stubborn. He refuses to compromise his art to sell records and advance his career, even though he can't afford his own place or even a winter coat.

The thing is, Llewyn is a good musician.

But is he great?

Or, at the very least, as great as he thinks he is?

He might not be in the world of the movie, where the sound of the times is dominated by chipper vocal groups like the one featuring Llewyn's friends Jim and Jean Berkey (played by Justin Timberlake and Carey Mulligan). Llewyn scoffs at the song he's invited to play at Jim's recording session called "Please Mr. Kennedy," a rollicking acoustic number about the space race that features hilarious sound effects by Adam Driver's up-and-comer character Al Cody.

"Look, I'm happy for the gig, but who wrote this?" asks Llewyn with a condescending smirk.

" ... I did," says the more-successful Jim.

The soundtrack of traditional folk covers and some originals (produced by T-Bone Burnett, who should produce all things) is consistently great all the way through (the actors all perform the songs live in their entirety), but it's Llewyn's solo songs that are most fascinating. Issac has the voice and look of a man who's most at home while singing folk songs but who can't stand the lack of success folk has provided to him. The last scene offers an interesting take on Llewyn's circular life and on whether he can get out of his own way so he can be better than he is.

Though Inside Llewyn Davis doesn't have the crime aspect that many Coen Brothers films include, the slightly-off characters and strange situations (like Llewyn's road trip with John Goodman and a still-thinks-he's-playing-Neal-Cassady Garrett Hedlund) will be a familiar sight to fans.

Oh and there's this whole thing with a cat.

Grade: A

Rated R for language including some sexual references.

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