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Inside Llewyn Davis

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

January 23, 2014

Inside Llewyn Davis

(***) R 

Words don’t come too easily when attempting to describe Joel and Ethan Coen’s latest exercise in filmmaking, Inside Llewyn Davis, and what I felt about it after the experience had come and gone. I’m pretty sure that, like most of the Coens’ work, it’s something I’m going to be returning to in the future. It’s certainly challenging in many ways and in keeping with the filmmaking duo’s previous work, Inside Llewyn Davis screams for repeat viewings, as most of their films are designed to really reveal themselves only after the initial experience. This is a film that most likely will alienate viewers who have been weaned on more mainstream fare and aren’t familiar with the more cerebral works of the Coen siblings, but that’s to be expected. More demanding film fans would expect nothing less from the Coens. If audiences are anticipating something along the lines of the brothers’ last film, True Grit, they’re going to be mightily surprised and more than a little disappointed.

Among its many attributes that can be grasped during the first viewing of the film is the atmospheric recreation of the early 1960s Greenwich Village folk scene, courtesy of cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel, and the outstanding original recordings contained in the film, most of them performed by the film’s star, Oscar Isaac (Llewyn Davis).

Oscar Isaac & Justin Timberlake in ‘Llewyn Davis’

T. Bone Burnett and Skip Lievsay, longtime musical contributors to the Coen Brothers’ films, work their magic once again in terms of the tuneful selections, which play such a pivotal role in the film. And, of course, there are the cinematic flourishes that crop up from time to time that remind us this is indeed a Coen Brother’s film and that everything and anything can happen.

The title character, Llewyn Davis, was once part of the promising folk duo Timlin and Davis, a duo that had one album under their collective belts before Timlin tossed himself off the George Washington Bridge. Now Llewyn finds himself hustling to make ends meet and difficult to even put enough money together for a winter coat. He’s also gotten his latest girlfriend (Carey Mulligan) pregnant and is struggling to pay for yet another abortion. Along the way there are many other plot detours that don’t really add a lot to in the scheme of things but will keep more astute viewers wildly amused. These include an automobile journey Llewyn makes to Chicago with a blowhard road manager (John Goodman) in tow as he makes his way to meet a music impresario (F. Murray Abraham) and an attempt Llewyn makes at recording a comical folk song, collaborating with a fellow folk artist (Justin Timberlake).  These are but two examples of the film’s wildly divergent digressions but there are many others.

The most difficult part to swallow regarding the film is the character Llewyn Davis. He comes across as such an arrogant jerk that it’s truly hard to drum up any sympathy for him at all.  Whether one can get past this or not will certainly color their overall feelings for this truly unique film.

Jack Ryan:

Shadow Recruit (**) R

Should one of the cable channels along the lines of A & E ever decide to get into the business of adapting Jack Ryan novels, I am guessing the end result would look a lot like the latest cinematic entry in the series, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. It gets the job done but still seems more than a bit uninspired and doesn’t really offer anything above the requisite action set pieces during the film’s final act. Once again director/actor Kenneth Branagh—following his 2011 attempt at a mainstream feature film, Thor—illustrates that he’s better suited in front of the camera than behind. He’s proven himself adept as a director with more serious fare in decades past but a Jack Ryan or Thor franchise film is not in his best interests. And that’s only one of the problems.

One of the biggest issues with this film is the story itself. Apparently this is an original story concocted directly for the screen and not based on a Tom Clancy novel. It certainly shows. The story offers basically one plot thread that takes forever to get going, whereas Clancy had the talent and ability to juggle several storylines successfully. Those who complain that films from the spy genre are too complicated to follow should have no problem with this one. Others expecting the kind of more challenging plots presented in other Jack Ryan adaptations (Clear and Present Danger, Hunt For Red October) will feel more than a bit shortchanged.

Actor Chris Pine (Star Trek) in his first time out as Jack Ryan does an ample job in the role. I certainly had no problem with the casting choice there and the same can be said for Keira Knightley in her role as Ryan’s love interest. It’s just a shame that the two aren’t given more to do.

The film is kind of a reboot, I suppose, as it opens with Ryan being recruited out of college by CIA agent, William Harper (Kevin Costner). Later Ryan finds himself on a dangerous mission in the Middle East, which nearly kills him. He then goes undercover as a Wall Street analyst in order to keep tabs on any suspicious goings on in terms of the buying and selling of stocks by suspected terrorists. Ryan uncovers a plot initiated by a Russian General (Branagh) and must come clean with his fiancée, Cathy (Knightley), regarding his true identity.

The final act does offer the obligatory action set pieces movies like this are known for but you never get a sense of any real danger. It’s predictable from the word go and, though, that may be enough to provide reasonable entertainment for some, I would advise viewers to think long and hard before making an investment in this latest entry.

Both films are playing at the Carmike in Hickory, and area theaters.

Questions or comments? Write Adam at



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Bullet To The Head Warm Bodies




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