Tag Archives: Ethan Coen

Lost and Found

Unbroken

by Hope Madden

With Unbroken, Angelina Jolie’s second effort behind the camera, she proves she knows how to put together a team. Beginning with screenwriters Joel and Ethan Cohen (each with 4 Oscars, two apiece for writing) and extending to cinematographer Roger Deakins (11-time Oscar nominee) and the man behind the music, Alexandre Desplat (with his mere 6 Oscar noms), she’s given Louis Zamperini’s story the storytellers it deserves.

Their film shares the honestly amazing tale of an Olympic runner who finds himself adrift at sea and then held in a Japanese POW camp during WWII. If the film suffers from anything, it’s an overabundance of respect for the source material.

So much of Zamperini’s life just defies belief – if ever there was a true story destined for the big screen, it was his, and Jack O’Connell delivers the grit and spirit needed to pull off the tale. O’Connell may be new to many viewers, but this Brit has been quietly developing an impressive arsenal of work (Eden Lake, Starred Up, ’71). If this performance and film leave questions about Zamperini as a person, O’Connell certainly convinces when it comes to the man’s seemingly bottomless reserve of strength.

While you absolutely get the feeling that this is the guy you’d want with you if you were ever lost at sea, the film refuses to expound on what drives that buoyancy. Nor does it offer a glimpse at the conflicting emotional turmoil he would carry with him after the war.

The cast is large and O’Connell has the kind of easy charisma that makes most scenes feel intimate. The ensemble offers some memorable turns – from Domhnall Gleeson and Takamasa Ishihara, in particular – but too many actors fall back on broad stroke flying ace clichés and too few hold your interest.

Still, there’s no escaping the jaw-dropping facts of this adventure – facts which alone compel rapt attention for the duration of the film. Deakins’s images are on a scale befitting the epic, and Jolie has a knack for taking advantage of every inch of a screen.

Whatever Unbroken’s faults, the adventure will overwhelm you, as it should, and the facts and triumphs will stay with you long after the credits roll.

 

Verdict-3-5-Stars

 

 

The Brothers’ Soulful Look Inside

Inside Llewyn Davis

by Hope Madden

In some circles, a new Coen brothers‘ film is more hotly anticipated than the next Batman. Those are my people. Joel and Ethan Coen have crafted among the most impressive set of movies of any American filmmakers. Though there are certain thumbprints that mark a film as theirs, they never cease to surprise in the art they produce – which, as often as not, is art for art’s sake. And this is the very theme of their latest effort, Inside Llewyn Davis.

An immersive experience that takes you directly to the heart of the 1961 Greenwich Village folk scene, the film shadows the titular, beleaguered artist for just a few days as he tries to survive both winter and his chosen field.

The film opens onstage, as Llewyn (a fantastic Oscar Isaac) sings in the smoky Gaslight Club. It’s an intensely intimate segment, and Isaac performs not a snippet, but an entire number. His performance is exceptional, and it tells you more about Llewyn than the next 90 minutes are bound to share.

Isaac and the brothers offer a superbly nuanced character study, so understated as to be almost hypnotic. Isaac’s world-wearied stare and infrequent songs do the majority of the work, but his adventure – as brilliantly written as anything you’d expect from the Coens – captures your attention.

Enough can’t be said about Isaac’s performance, both as an actor and as a musician, because the role requires much from both. He shoulders nearly every second of screen time, offering enough self-destructiveness, tenderness and ego to keep you believing in his trials and almost reluctantly rooting for him.

He’s aided by enigmatic performances in wonderfully odd roles. Coen regular John Goodman adds color as an aging jazz man, while Carey Mulligan spits inspired insults, and Justin Timberlake plays convincingly against type as the group’s square.

It’s not just the performances or the writing that make this film so languidly watchable, but the magically depicted setting – so unerringly authentic that you feel you’re inside a Bob Dylan album cover. Between that and the music – so, so many points made simply with the music – the film shines.

But what sets Llewyn Davis apart from the rest of the Coen stash is its lack of cynicism. Sure, with some battered years under his belt as a musician, not to mention his deeper scars and struggles, Llewyn holds a defensively cynical outlook. But he’s hopelessly true to his art. Can’t imagine where he got that.

 

Verdict-4-5-Stars