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Inside Llewyn Davis (15) ****

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In a year littered with terrific films and eye-catching performances, one or two gems were always going to be short-changed at the Academy Awards nominations.

Few could have predicted that Joel and Ethan Coen, who won four golden statuettes for No Country For Old Men and Fargo, would be among those casualties when they were armed with this delightful and artfully composed comedy drama.

Admittedly, Inside Llewyn Davis moves to its own soft beat, the colour palette is earthy and the humour dry rather than laugh-out-loud funny. But the script is peppered with polished one-liners, the direction elegant and performances are exemplary.

Every frame beautifully harks back to the Greenwich Village folk scene of the early 1960s.

Like the central character, essayed by Oscar Isaac who should have usurped Christian Bale on the Oscars shortlist, the Coens’ film has been unfairly overshadowed.

Isaac plays the eponymous musician, who has yet to recover from the suicide of his singing partner.

He ricochets from one gig to the next, begging for temporary refuge on the couches of friends including Mitch Gorfein (Ethan Phillips) and his wife Lillian (Robin Bartlett).

By accident, Llewyn lets out the Gorfeins’ cat and he embarks on a mission to track down the feline before his hosts notice the animal is missing.

Thankfully, Llewyn locates the animal but since he is unable to return it to the locked apartment, the singer-songwriter takes his four-legged nemesis to the flat of friends Jim (Justin Timberlake) and Jean (Carey Mulligan), who are also a singing duo.

Jean’s frustrations with Llewyn soon boil over.

‘Everything you touch turns to ... – like King Midas’s idiot brother!’ she seethes, eventually revealing the source of her ire.

Llewyn still crashes at Jean and Jim’s flat, with a cheery army recruit and aspiring folk singer called Troy Nelson (Stark Sands).

‘Did you meet Elvis?’ enquires Oscar casually.

‘No, I did not meet Private Presley,’ Troy crisply responds.

When the Gorfeins’ cat escapes for a second time, Llewyn resigns himself to telling them the horrible truth and heads to Chicago for an important audition in the company of drug-addicted jazz musician Roland Turner (John Goodman) and his driver Johnny Five (Garrett Hedlund).

Interspersed with musical performances by the cast, Inside Llewyn Davis is another offbeat character study from the Coens proving what goes around, comes around.

Isaac is terrific, weathering each outrageous misfortune with the same look of mournful resignation, while Mulligan plays effectively against type as a feisty independent woman, who isn’t afraid to speak her mind. Watch out for the cat, who provides one of the film’s comical highpoints.

 

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