Monthly Archives: January 2014

Inside Llewyn Davis Film Review

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The Coen brothers are famous for writing and directing darkly humorous films that skirt the edge of traditional film narrative. Their latest creation, Inside Llewyn Davis, continues the trend and with the titular character we’re presented with their bleakest antihero yet. Following Llewyn (Oscar Isaac), a struggling folk singer in the early 60s Greenwich Village scene, is hard work. Cold, penniless, and with a rapidly dwindling supply of couches to sleep on, we witness Llewyn’s artistic idealism clash with a harsher reality. At the same time our expectations as an audience are challenged by the reality of the Coen brothers’ vision. At first glance Llewyn appears to be the archetypal charismatic underdog, but it quickly becomes apparent that most of his suffering is self-inflicted and there seems to be little chance of redemption. We have a character that is as cold and uninviting as the snow lined streets he haunts and like Llewyn, we are left seeking a sense of comfort only to encounter doors being slammed shut.

As a character, Llewyn may be difficult to warm to, but he is incessantly thought-provoking. Oscar Isaac excels in the role, oozing a despondent yet defiant air that colours the whole film. Isaac’s musical performances in the film are incredible, and act as a kind of counterweight to his character’s more exacting aspects. The film follows a week of Llewyn’s life, and again the conventions are bucked – the days consists of repeating the same unfulfilling gigs in Greenwich Village, and repeating the same disappointing conversations with his agent. Trapped in a rut, when opportunities arise they inevitably lead back to the same place. Llewyn’s journey is a bizarre one that can easily arouse a feeling of frustration, as we see the landscape change, but never the character.

The Coen’s trademark black humour is here, but in a diluted form. The louder, more cartoonish characters that accentuate many of their films are noticeably absent and instead we’re faced with a muted and grim world complete with desaturated colours and shadows that almost threaten to swallow up scenes. The supporting cast serves to add both comic relief and to propel the narrative, with Carey Mulligan and John Goodman bringing good performances to quite limited roles, and Justin Timberlake proving that his voice can work outside pop music. But ultimately this is Llewyn Davis’ show, a fact that is simultaneously a blessing and a curse for the viewer. For all his potential, Llewyn seems destined to remain in the shadows – perhaps happy in his own way to occupy that space, or perhaps a necessary and tragic by-product in the evolution of a burgeoning genre.

The unconventionality of both the protagonist and the story do not stop Inside Llewyn Davis being a solid film, but it does make it a rather more difficult one to watch. By bucking expectations and confronting us with sobering visions of a reality that we often shy away from, the film forces us to question our sense of heroic destiny, both on screen and off screen. The real gem at the heart of the story is that it allows itself to remain open to interpretation and in the end we are left with a flawed but wonderfully crafted monument to the darker side of human experience. Like a good folk song, the film is bound to evoke feelings of dissatisfaction, melancholy, and woe – but maybe that’s just what it is like inside Llewyn Davis.

llewyn davisPublished in Gazette Group titles (Swords Gazette, Malahide Gazette, Blanchardstown Gazette, Castleknock Gazette, Dundrum Gazette, Dun Laoghaire Gazette, Lucan Gazette, Clondalkin Gazette) on 30th Jan 2014.

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All is Lost Film Review

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Filmmaking is a bit of mystery. There is no map to success and it is difficult to predict how well a project will make the transition from paper to screen. Sometimes it is better to follow the rules, other times they need to be bent or broken. All is Lost, a film with one actor, no backstory, and practically no dialogue lacks many of the traditional tools relied upon to tell a story, yet manages to wordlessly capture something incredible.

The opening minutes see Robert Redford’s unnamed character alone aboard a yacht in the Indian Ocean as it collides with a stray shipping container. The crash destroys his radio and navigational tools, leaving him adrift and struggling to survive. As viewers, we essentially know nothing about Redford’s character other than what we see. A ring on his left hand suggests he may be married. A fleeting opening voiceover hints that he might have a family. But nothing is fact, everything is there to be interpreted by the audience – this is the ‘show don’t tell’ rule followed literally and taken to new heights.

In other circumstances, such levels of anonymity and ambiguity in the main character can be a fatal weakness. Ridley Scott’s The Counsellor suffered massively because it attempted to construct a story around an unnamed protagonist hovering without reason in the outskirts of a very vague drug deal. But despite the lack of information we have on Redford’s character, All is Lost works because we understand that his clear and simple goal is to survive.

Writer and Director J.C. Chandor may still be a relative newcomer, but he is clearly unafraid to break new ground (this second feature film is a world apart from his 2011 debut Margin Call which was a densely wordy Wall Street drama).Both thematically, and in its stripped down story, there’s an obvious comparison to Gravity, but there’s a distinct move away from the tension and frantic pace of Cuarón’s film. Redford’s character weathers many storms that will have you on the edge of your seat, but it is the long, reflective interludes of sea, sky, and stillness that give All is Lost such a unique and mesmerising flavour. Redford’s performance is all the more remarkable for the lack of dialogue. We witness a transition from cool-headed competence to doubt and desperation through movement, action, and reaction. There are many overt ways that the story progresses – violent storms must be dealt with, a distant shipping lane provides hope – but the story really unfolds in the small and subtle details that are left to the audience to notice.

All is Lost can ultimately be read as a meditation on life and death, and in particular of the will of the individual to survive despite insurmountable odds. It is an exquisitely shot, wonderfully scored film that does something different. It grants the audience the opportunity to actively engage with the story, to interpret and seek meaning rather than to sit back and passively ingest a narrative. On paper, the concept was dubious, but in its finished form All is Lost is something very special. While the film understandably won’t be for everyone, those who dare to venture into uncharted waters have the chance of finding a very rare treasure.

redfordPublished in Gazette Group titles (Swords Gazette, Malahide Gazette, Blanchardstown Gazette, Castleknock Gazette, Dundrum Gazette, Dun Laoghaire Gazette, Lucan Gazette, Clondalkin Gazette) on 16th Jan 2014.