The latest Coen brothers film, Inside Llewyn Davis, charts a desolate week in the life of a down-and-out folk musician in early 1960s New York.

It's a poignant, droll and sad tale that takes place just before the folk music revival, as a struggling musician faces one obstacle after another in his bid for success.

Oscar Isaac takes on the titular role in a performance that is sure to catapult him to superstardom. The arresting opening scene shows him on stage in a small bar, singing the classic folk song Hang Me, Oh Hang Me, cigarette smoke drifting in the air as the audience respectfully listens. The Coen brothers' choice to let the song play in its entirety shows their confidence in their leading man, and serves as a sweet ode to folk music.

Llewyn is living the life of a vagrant, couch-hopping from one acquaintance to the next, scrounging for money from his friends and family, trying to survive day by day. Copies of his solo record languish in boxes in his comically inept manager's office, and he makes peanuts playing the Gaslight Theatre to a sometimes indifferent crowd.

His talent is clear, but it's also abundantly apparent that Llewyn doesn't make many friends going through his life. His friendship with married singing-duo Jean and Jim Berkey (Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake) quickly turns sour, and he burns bridges with his affluent college professor pals when he goes on a nasty rant at a dinner party.

Llewyn's dream of making it in the music industry takes him on a road-trip to Chicago, along with a mysterious Jack Kerouac-esque driver (Garrett Hedlund) and a gasbag jazz musician, Roland Turner, played to perfection by John Goodman.

Isaac is excellent as the story's unlikeable protagonist, who constantly wears the downbeat expression of one who carries the weight of the world on his shoulders. Timberlake puts in a charmingly wholesome stint as a more accessible musician, while Mulligan is underused and underdeveloped as caustic, eternally spouting-off Jean.

Girls star Adam Driver puts in a humorous appearance as Al Cody, singing a mock novelty song with Isaac and Timberlake, in one of the most out-and-out funny moments in the film.

This is a beautifully plot-less, atmospheric piece of work that perfectly captures one man's bid to make it in an industry where, maybe, raw talent just isn't enough. 

Sarah McIntyre