Oscar Isaac did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite nominated for a Golden Globe, for portraying Llewyn Davis in Inside Llewyn Davis.
The last film by the Joel and Ethan Coen to deal with the life of an artist was Barton Fink about a playwright struggling with writer's block while working on a screenplay in Hollywood. In both films they really do not allow the artist to have any pretension. Barton Fink was portrayed as a writer who despite having success decries it for not finding the theater of the people, a place where the common man will tell their story yet he consistently interrupts a seemingly common man when he tries to tell the story. The less successful Llewyn Davis is the artist this time and again there is no pedestal that he is being place on by the film, although in this case it is not for slight delusions of grandeur but rather that Llewyn Davis is not a good man.
This is not a case of a villainous protagonist like Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood or Tatsuya Nakadai in The Sword of Doom, but it is perhaps is just as much of a challenge for Oscar Isaac as he must play essentially a jerk. The film stays with Llewyn throughout its course as well, and although there are definitely comic moments in the film that is not the only intent unlike say Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street who also played a jerk. Llewyn is a different breed of lout than Jordan Belfort, and Isaac has to meet the requirements of the role which is to make us not only follow Llewyn Davis but as well actually care about him throughout his week long journey depicted in the film which involves Llewyn suffering but as well making plenty of setbacks for himself.
Llewyn is a folk singer who seems to be perhaps on the fringe of some sort of success although part of his potential has been taken away because his old musical partner committed suicide leaving him to have to try and launch a solo career. There are some who recognize he has talents but no one in particularly really wants to pay him for said talents, although there are a few people willing to lend him their couch for him to stay on as he really does not live anywhere himself. Oscar Isaac is actually absolutely perfect in finding just the right way
to play Llewyn in the film. He does not try to avoid portraying Llewyn
as the questionable sort he is, but rather goes about embracing this
factor as honestly as he can. Isaac does not try to make Llewyn sympathetic but rather he tries to make Llewyn just a man that you could actually meet in life.
Isaac simply is the part of a folk singer of the period there is not even a question of that in any regard. Firstly in the various musical scenes of the film Isaac is terrific in being the type of performer that Llewyn should be. As a folk singer this is not about a larger than life stage personality but rather the opposite in sort of purposefully presenting one self as kind of a man on the fringe of things. Isaac is very effective in portraying this style of performance and carries himself in a very authentic feeling fashion. When Llewyn performs Isaac throws himself into the moment in the right fashion. You can see the effort of the musical performance in Isaac's work, and most importantly in these scenes you can see a strong albeit low key passion that Isaac gives Llewyn in these scenes that properly reinforces the idea that Llewyn does care about his music.
Outside of performing Llewyn's songs is when the more obnoxious behavior of Llewyn begins to surface and it would have been very easy for the film to become rather unwatchable because of the fact that Llewyn is a jerk. Isaac does not shirk this fact but he is incredibly watchable, and it is exceedingly easy to follow him throughout the film. Isaac does have his own charisma that is effective and fitting in his folk singer sort of way, but that is not really what makes Isaac's performance work as well as it does. One thing that helps is Isaac's portrayal of the attitude of Llewyn during the film. Llewyn has a somber streak to him to be sure, but Isaac never makes him a man constantly feeling sorry for himself. Instead Isaac shows his behavior is often that he does not reflect on his behavior enough.
Isaac in part does make some of his uncouth behavior such as ignoring the fact that he is not wanted just to continually ask to be able to sleep on a couch. Isaac is funny whenever he needs to be like many of the great performances in Coen Brothers films, but this performance is not chiefly about the laughs, although it definitely is a nice bonus. What is most remarkably about his work is how authentic he is in his portrayal of Llewyn's attitude. He not especially forceful about it all the time rather he is a more realistic jerk in that he has such a relaxed attitude toward his behavior. He does not hesitate to say something, and even further than that Isaac shows Llewyn constant defense of his various actions just that of a man who just rather casually refuses to really look back on how his actions can hurt others.
One thing that really helps Isaac's performance though is that he does not make Llewyn amoral so to speak even though it would have been very easy for him to portrayed as such. Isaac is very careful though to give those very brief moments where it seems Llewyn could turn around. Llewyn never reflects enough on himself to ever say he is sorry, or change his ways, but Isaac is wonderful in showing that Llewyn could always almost do the right thing. One of the strongest moments in his performance is when Llewyn leaves his temporary companion cat behind in car even though its prospects for survival seems slim. Llewyn goes through with this despicable action, but Isaac in only his silent reaction really gives the moment the impact by suggesting that Llewyn does definitely thinks hard about doing the right thing but decides against it.
Isaac even though he plays a questionable character is actually able to make you sympathize with him because of how honest Isaac is with Llewyn Davis. The somber streak I noted earlier is one of these places where it is easy to sympathize with him, and it is the careful way that Isaac plays it. The truly morose moments in Llewyn are all carefully placed by Isaac and they are found when Llewyn has to remember his old partner who committed suicide. The film never says it directly that Llewyn misses his old friend but Isaac establishes this beautifully through his performance. Whenever Llewyn directly remembers something about him you can see in Isaac's portrayal an true reflection in Llewyn for once, and see that Llewyn's loss was more than simply his music career.
This is a great performance by Oscar Isaac, and one that I really just loved watching. Isaac is so naturally part of he atmosphere of the film yet he is never overwhelmed by it. Isaac is amazing in the role because he absolutely merely becomes Llewyn Davis for the course of it. Llewyn is far from a good man, and by the end of the film he really has not really learned any sort of a lesson rather staying as man in his circular pattern he seems to have developed. Watching the journey that Llewyn takes through film though you feel though you have spent time with an actual man in this life. He does not need to learn anything because well he should not really learn anything since it is opposed to a nature of this man, this man that Oscar Isaac vividly brings to life.