‘Inside Llewyn Davis,’ Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen

December 5, 2013 12:23 AM

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‘Inside Llewyn Davis,’ Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen

Llewyn’s repertoire and some aspects of his background are borrowed from Dave Van Ronk, who loomed large on the New York folk scene in its pre-Bob Dylan hootenanny-and-Autoharp phase. Oscar Isaac, who plays both Llewyn and the guitar with offhand virtuosity, is slighter of build and scowlier of mien than Van Ronk, with a fine, clear tenor singing voice. But in any case, this is not a biopic, it’s a Coen brothers movie, which is to say a brilliant magpie’s nest of surrealism, period detail and pop-culture scholarship. To put it another way, it’s a folk tale.

The story — a wobbly, circular journey to nowhere in particular and back, with stops in Chicago, Queens and the Upper West Side — is nearly as old as narrative itself. An important character is named Ulysses, whose ancient wanderings inspired “O Brother, Where Art Thou?,” the Coens’ earlier venture ...

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