I've for some reason still not seen Intolerable Cruelty so this statement's only ninety-seven-point-five percent factual, but Inside Llweyn Davis is the first Coens movie that I haven't loved in forever and a day, sad to say. What is it that left me cold? Is it because I am a dog person? Is it Justin Timberlake's smug facial hair that out-acts him? Or is it just that I think I might be incapable of ever really coming to appreciate Oscar Isaac on-screen? I'll openly admit he's an actor whose appeal, even after this showcase, remains elusive to me. Or maybe it's the fact that Carey Mulligan, an actress I actually really love, is given a fairly one-note joke of a role, shrewing it up under a sad damp hair-do. I don't know. I might just check off all of the above and call it a day.
It's not a movie that is trying to help me overcome any of these things, that's for sure - it's cold, from up on high with the beautiful icy blue-whites of the cinematography on all the way down. I usually happily admire actively off-putting protagonists - a world filled with characters that really couldn't give a damn if I like them or no. But the pleasures of being cinematically antagonized usually have that friction between loving to hate and just hating, and here I kept tipping towards the latter.
Oh hate is too strong an implication - I just never sparked to the story, I stayed aloof and indifferent at most every turn. There were passages I enjoyed - Isaac has a lovely voice and the songs were lovely, and that first dinner scene at the Gorfeins is classic Coens, jazzy and bizarre. Adam Driver turns out to be golden in the brother's hands - as always Joel and Ethan create a rich world that you feel like you could wander off in a million directions inside of... I just kept wanting to shoot off in the direction the movie wasn't taking me. Hey let's ride to the police station with Garrett Hedlund instead, eh? Eh? No? Okay then.
And so the film sputters along for chapters that I never quite found an in to. One look at what Michael Stuhlberg did in A Serious Man (a film and a performance I adore) with a similarly unsympathetic lead shuffling about in an icy Coen kingdom and the difference for me is immeasurable - that film had a pulse, a nervous stutter, a life to it. Llewyn just left me wanting to make like that darn cat and shoot out the closest window to freedom.