Two-thirds into Inside Llewyn Davis, the titular main character, a folk singer with a beautiful voice but no money, finally gets the chance to perform for a major record producer in Chicago, Bud Grossman. Grossman, whom Davis has wanted to impress for a long time, sits calmly just a few short feet away while Davis sings his heart out. The song moves us beyond belief, and we can’t help but expect that Grossman will feel the same. However, in case we still haven’t realized how desperate the situation is for this musician, we will find out very soon.
The question the scene raises, at least on the surface, is whether we want so badly for Davis to succeed because we have got to know him quite well over the first two acts, and we know he is down on his luck despite being a nice guy and an excellent singer. Perhaps Grossman doesn’t feel the same way, because he doesn’t see the full picture.
But that is not true. In the film’s opening scene, when Davis performs the traditional folk song “Hang Me, Oh Hang Me” in the New York City’s Gaslight Café in the winter of 1961, we are immediately mesmerized by his evident talent and sincere emotional connection to the material despite not knowing anything about him. We would only recognize, toward the end of the film, what had led up to that opening scene, but actor Oscar Isaac is captivating in the role and gets our attention whether we know his story or not.
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(Still of Oscar Isaac in Inside Llewyn Davis. © 2013 – CBS Films)