Blu-ray Review Comedy

Green, Green Blu-ray Review: Inside Llewyn Davis

March 18, 2014Ben MK

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Folk singer's blues

By Ben Mk

Being a struggling artist, the character of Llewyn Davis would fit in perfectly in a Woody Allen film. But as it just so happens, it's the Coen Brothers who have brought this story of a down on his luck folk singer to the screen. Such is their latest film, Inside Llewyn Davis, which tells the tale of one tumultuous week in the life of its titular character (played by Oscar Isaac), as he strives to overcome both emotional and career adversities in 1960's New York City.

The time and the place is the Greenwich Village folk music scene of 1961 — before there was a Greenwich Village folk music scene to speak of. Like many of his fellow compatriots in the tight-knit folk community, Llewyn's existence is a transient one. Spending his days chasing new gigs, his evenings playing them (usually at the Gaslight Café), and the time in-between crashing on the couches of friends and acquaintances, there's precious little time left for meaningful relationships — but plenty of time for complicated ones. Case in point: his relationship with the beautiful but angry Jean Berkey (Carey Mulligan). One half of Jim and Jean, a popular folk duo — whose couch he often finds himself bunking on — she's just revealed her pregnancy to Llewyn. But with neither of them sure of whether he or Jim (Justin Timberlake) is the father, they must find a way to deal with the situation. Add to that the recent suicide of his singing partner and the constant challenges he faces in furthering his musical career, and Llewyn finds himself under pressure from all sides — forcing him to embark on a journey of self-discovery, meeting all manner of interesting characters along the way.

With music being at the forefront of the story, viewers will undoubtedly find themselves drawn in by it, from Isaac's opening performance of 'Hang Me, Oh Hang Me', and all throughout the film, as the songs (including the folk classics 'Five Hundred Miles' and 'Green, Green Rocky Road') feed off of (and into) the emotional impact of the storytelling. The caliber of the musical performances given by the actors — Isaac, in particular — goes a long way in demonstrating the great care that has gone into making the film as authentic as possible. And that attention to detail applies to the film's events and characters as well — from Timberlake and Mulligan's Jim and Jean Berkey to jazzman Roland Turner (John Goodman) and music mogul Bud Grossman (F. Murray Abraham) — which owe much to real people and events. Chief among them is folk musician Dave Van Ronk, whose memoir, The Mayor of MacDougal Street, serves as inspiration for the world of the film. Even the film's title is a passing reference to Van Ronk's 1963 album, Inside Dave Van Ronk. But make no mistake, even though the story is grounded in reality, the Coens have applied their trademark wit to it in spades. From the interactions between Llewyn and the film's many oddball characters to his quest to return his friends' (the Gorfiends) cat, there's no shortage of scenes to put a grin on viewers' faces.

Inside Llewyn Davis has a distinctive look that perfectly captures the film's undercurrent of melancholy. Cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel's image is characterized by a desaturated and restrained color palette that's best described as overcast, but it's never murky. Though the visuals often take on a subtle glow, the HD transfer is no slouch, with fine detail manifesting itself in such ways as the texture on Llewyn's corduroy jacket, the fur on the Gorfeins' cat and the fuzz on Jim's sweater, all topped off with a fine layer of grain. The film also has its fair share of scenes cloaked in darkness — whether it's nighttime scenes or those set in the cavernous quarters of the Gaslight Café — and the transfer handles these low light conditions admirably as well, thanks to strong contrast levels and consistent shadow detail. The Blu-ray release also sports a DTS-HD Master 5.1 soundtrack, ideal for reproducing the film's primarily dialog-driven and musically-inclined soundstage.

Mongrel Media's Blu-ray release includes a DVD copy of the film and is accompanied by a couple of worthwhile special features. The first is Another Day, Another Time: Celebrating the Music of Inside Llewyn Davis, a one-hour-and-forty-one-minute concert special (filmed in September 2013, at New York City's Town Hall), featuring music from and inspired by the film, as performed by artists such as the Avett Brothers, Joan Baez and the Punch Brothers. And the second is the forty-three minute documentary, Inside 'Inside Llewyn Davis', which chronicles the making of the film, paying special attention to the significant role that music plays in the story. Featuring anecdotes and insight from the filmmakers — including Joel and Ethan Coen, as well as music producers T Bone Burnett and Marcus Mumford — and the cast — including Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan and Justin Timberlake — the doc touches on the origins of the story, the casting and the production design (in particular, basing the character of Llewyn on Dave Van Ronk, capturing all of the film's music live on-set, and recreating the film's centerpiece location, the Gaslight Café, in present day Greenwich Village).

Inside Llewyn Davis is that rare gem of a film — one with that elusive combination of heart, humor and genuine charm that only the Coen Brothers can muster. If you're a fan of folk music, you're bound to adore it; and if not, then it's guaranteed convert you. Even for those who've already seen it once, the Blu-ray release provides the best possible way to enjoy the film (outside of cinemas), while its special features provide hours of additional content (especially for fans of the music) to enjoy, making Inside Llewyn Davis well worth a repeat performance on Blu-ray.

Disc Breakdown
The Film  —  ★★★★½
Audio/Visual Fidelity  —  ★★★★
Special Features  —  ★★★½

* Reviewer's note: Portions of this Blu-ray review were adapted from my original review of the theatrical release, published on December 20th, 2013.

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