Inside Llewyn Davis, Joel and his brother Ethan’s film about a turbulent period in the life of its title character, a fictional Village folkie, during 1961. The film was partly inspired by the autobiography of folk singer Dave Van Ronk
If we see technically ,then Davis isn’t Van Ronk. He had a gruff , commanding style that was 180 degrees removed from Oscar Isaac’s (the actor who played Davis) resonant balladeering. Yet the film has more than its share of nods to Van Ronk.
Isaac sings three Van Ronk-associated songs, which he learned from one of the late singer’s Village folk buddies. The cover of Davis’s album is a direct nod to Van Ronk’s 1963 LP Inside Dave Van Ronk. Llewyn is so poor he doesn’t even have a winter overcoat. His fellow folk singer Jean Berkey (a foul-mouthed Carey Mulligan), who goes out with his friend Jim (Justin Timberlake), is furious because she is pregnant and thinks he might be the father. “Everything you touch turns to shit, like King Midas’s idiot brother,” she screeches at him. He used to sing with a partner, Mike, who killed himself by jumping off the George Washington Bridge. He performs in a shadowy club, in the glare of a recording studio, at a dinner table, and in a vacant auditorium. And here lies the genius of Coen Brothers. The Coens could have made a film about a superlative talent , just waiting to be dug up like a diamond.
Llewyn is very good, but he’s not great. The truth, in this instance, is uttered by Bud Grossman ( Superbly played by F. Murray Abraham -the actor from Amadeus) , the owner of the Gate of Horn, who asks Llewyn to play for him, one to one. He gives the verdict after listening to Davis’s song “I don’t see a lot of money here.” Llewyn accepts the verdict, as you should from any god, and leaves. Oscar Issac gave a splendid performance in this film. The lead hero doesn’t look like lead and that’s exactly what it should be. Bud Grossman, again, gets it right, telling him, “You’re no front man.” There are many humorous moments but the tone is too bleak for this ever simply to seem like comedy. The Coens are dealing with suicide, abortion, and their lead character’s ongoing professional failure. The film manages the unlikely feat of staying respectful toward the Greenwich Village folk scene of the early 1960s while being gently satirical about folk subculture in general.