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Big Lebowski, The (1998)

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Score: 10/10

Genre: Crime Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 57 min.

Release Date: March 6th, 1998 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen Actors: Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Julianne Moore, Steve Buscemi, Philip Seymour Hoffman, David Huddleston, Tara Reid, Peter Stormare, John Turturro, David Thewlis, Sam Elliott

S

et in the early ‘90s in L.A., the film follows one of the laziest men in existence, Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski (Jeff Bridges), who is attacked on his way inside his apartment by two large thugs. They demand money that is owed to pornography producer Jackie Treehorn (Ben Gazzara) by wife Bunnie Lebowski (Tara Reid), and urinate on an area rug (which really tied the room together) as a form of intimidation. Unfortunately, the Dude is the wrong Lebowski. The correct Lebowski (David Huddleston) is a disabled millionaire with plenty of ties to the community, Chamber of Commerce Business Achievement Awards, and a key to the city of Pasadena, among countless other recognitions (along with his reckless young trophy wife). Realizing the case of mistaken identities, the Dude takes a trip to see the bigger Lebowski to ask for a replacement rug – but is thrown out after being insulted on his vagabond appearance.

In retaliation, the Dude steals a random tapestry before he leaves, but is called back later to help as a courier for a $1,000,000 ransom exchange when Bunnie is kidnapped. He’s paid $20,000 (and allowed to keep the rug), given a beeper, and asked to wait until demands are made for Bunnie’s life. When the original money drop goes awry, the wife’s severed toe is sent in an envelope as a further threat. And on top of that, the Dude is visited by Nihilists with an aggressive marmot (while he listens to “Ultimate Relaxation: Song of the Whale”), making his situation just that much stickier.

“The Big Lebowski” is memorably narrated by the deep, gruff voice of Sam Elliott, who also briefly appears in the film. Like the tumbling tumbleweed (to the tune of the “Sons of the Pioneers” song) that rolls through the streets of Los Angeles at the opening, the lead character, who is specifically not a hero but simply the right man for the time, seems to stroll through unconventional misadventures without making too much of an impact (instead, merely passing through the events). He’s unemployed, drinks White Russians continuously, smokes marijuana, and doesn’t seem terribly concerned about anything, even when he’s neck-deep in murder/mystery mayhem. It’s like a hard-boiled, film noir detective film but without the usual, intelligent participants. By the conclusion, the Dude virtually solves the case solely during momentary bouts of regained consciousness.

A simple plan becomes outrageously complex as details, motives, and participants become unmanageably mixed up. Fueled by several hallucinogenic dream sequences (including a grand musical number), the movie is absolutely, astoundingly unique. And the whole ordeal is made more hilarious by its incredibly idiosyncratic supporting players. John Goodman is the highlight as nutty Vietnam veteran Walter Sobchak, who inadvertently interferes with just about everything; Steve Buscemi is Donny, the consistently berated fellow bowling league member; John Turturro gets a ludicrously amusing bit part as an incendiary, unsporting opponent; and Julianne Moore is the incredibly peculiar Maude, the real Lebowski’s feminist daughter.

Transition scenes are hysterical; facial expressions in slow-motion are priceless; unpredictably ridiculous happenings spring up spontaneously; and the dialogue is riddled with moody, witty cursing and unequalled wordplay – and all sorts of sarcastic nonsense. Conversations about a wide assortment of unrelated topics always seem to take place in an overlapping fashion, with numerous people and subject matters crossing back and forth over one another, essentially patterned like a crass screwball comedy. In the end, the story becomes one of friendships and the simplicities of life rather than the circuitous mystery (almost inconsequential in its confusion, which is part of the filmmakers’ intentions in playing with the genre), even as tables are turned, lies pinpointed, and double-crosses uncovered. Consistently entertaining, it’s one of the funniest comedies in years and another worthy addition to the Coen Brothers’ very varied filmography.

– Mike Massie

 



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