Let us now praise John Goodman — more specifically, John Goodman in his latest Coen incarnation. As in four of the brothers’ previous movies, Goodman provides a greatly enlivening gale-force gust amid the airless precision that is “Inside Llewyn Davis.”
Goodman’s on screen for only, what, five minutes? But what a five minutes. He plays a jazz musician named Roland Turner. Turner is a mass of agitated flesh sitting in the back seat of a sedan being driven from New York to Chicago. Driving duties are divided between Oscar Isaac, as the title character, and Garrett Hedlund, as an urban cowboy type named Johnny Five.
While they drive, Roland rants, rails, orates, expatiates. That’s when he’s awake; fortunately, he sleeps a bit, too. He is effete, affected, irked, eloquent, flamboyant, bullying, and more opinionated than any five Old Testament prophets put together (not counting Jeremiah).
Outside the car, Turner walks with two canes. He wears a porkpie hat, which conceals history’s least-flattering haircut, a Julius Caesar number that looks as though someone executed it with scissors and soup bowl. You’d be pretty irritable, too, with something like that on top of your head.
Wonderful as Roland Turner is (in his admittedly awful way), he doesn’t displace Walter Sobchak as king of Goodman’s Coen cast of characters. Walter is the Vietnam vet bowling buddy of Jeff Bridges’s Dude, in “The Big Lebowski” (1998). Roland’s runner-up status should not be taken as criticism. Hamlet would be hard pressed to top a character capable of declaring, “I mean, say what you want about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it’s an ethos.” It certainly is, and that’s not even factoring in Goodman’s line reading.