Coens spin folk tale

Oscar Isaac in Inside Llewyn Davis
Oscar Isaac in Inside Llewyn Davis

The latest offbeat wonder by the Coen brothers, Inside Llewyn Davis (Cert 15) is a wry evocation of the Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961.

It follows a week in the life of an earnest singer-songwriter, played by Guatemalan-born Oscar Isaac, as he faces the harsh New York winter while struggling to make it as a musician against numerous setbacks, most of his own making.

Ethan and Joel Coen have renewed their 2000 collaboration on O Brother, Where Art Thou? with music producer T Bone Burnett to create music which sounds authentic and performed by the cast live.

There’s a comic scene where Davis reluctantly goes along for a recording session and finds himself having to join Justin Timberlake and a yodelling Adam Driver on a daft ditty called Please Mr Kennedy.

Timberlake, with Carey Mulligan, is one half of husband and wife singing duo John and Jean supposedly Davis’s best friends, although he’s secretly done the dirty on them.

The famous Gaslight Cafe is lovingly recreated to capture an era in musical transition before the hits of Peter, Paul and Mary and Bob Dylan (about whom there’s a neat joke at the end). The semi-fictional figure of Llewyn Davis, forced to sleep on the couches of friends and casual acquaintances, is inspired by a singer called Dave Van Ronk.

Isaac is a revelation as a hero who is not exactly likeable (although our sympathies shift once irrascible old jazzer John Goodman comes on the scene).

Inside Llewyn Davis carries a mood of melancholy, angst - and priceless humour.

Meryl Streep gives one of those performances that are tailormade to impress Oscar voters as the malicious matriarch in August: Osage County (Cert 15), a shouty family melodrama with a star-laden cast.

After the death of poet father Sam Shepherd who has despaired of life with his venomous cancer patient wife Violet (Streep) the whole Weston clan descend on the Oklahoma homestead for the funeral and to decide what to do about her.

There are her three daughters - sensible Barbara (Julia Roberts), meek Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) and flakey Karen (Juliette Lewis). Also crowding round the dinner table are Barbara’s estranged husband (Ewan McGregor) and teenage daughter (Abigail Breslin) and Aunt Mattie Fae (Margo Martindale), her husband Charlie (Chris Cooper) and their feeble son (Benedict Cumberbatch).

Befuddled by a cocktail of booze and prescription drugs Violet proceeds to harangue them all in turn and gradually dark secrets tumble out.

The performances are all very pleasing but that’s not enough.

It is all very stagey and therefore no surprise to learn that August: Osage County started life as a play by Tracy Letts. Given the plethora of strong-willed women’s roles it may come as a surprise that Tracy is in fact a man (fans of Homeland will know him as the actor who plays the humourless new CIA chief Lockhart).