In my review for True Grit I said that that film was the second best Coen Brothers film behind The Big Lebowski. What I should have said was that it was my second favorite. There’s a difference. Technically True Grit is the better made film, but only just. The Big Lebowski, much ignored upon its release, has gone on to easily become the most revered of all the Coen Brothers films. It is easily my favorite. So if you’re not a fan of positive reviews don’t bother clicking on the jump. If you do like a bit of positivity though…
The Big Lebowski, for the few people that for some reason have never watched it, is a crime thriller story that accidentally stumbled into a slacker comedy. Jeff Lebowski (Jeff Bridges) or The Dude as he prefers to be called, although he’ll accept your Dudeness, Duder or Duderino if you’re not into the whole brevity thing, is described as the laziest man in LA. He spends all his free time doing the usual things a slacker would do. Bowling, going for a drive and the occasional acid flashback. He comes home one day to find his house occupied by two thugs looking for some money The Dudes wife owes a man by the name of Jackie Treehorn. Trouble is The Dude neither has money or a wife. They got the wrong Lebowski and as a parting gift for their error one of the men urinates on The Dude’s rug. it was a nice rug too. Really tied the room together.
BAM! Three quotes in one paragraph! That’s how quotable this film is.
The Dude is encouraged by his friends Walter (John Goodman) and, to a lesser extent, Donnie (Steve Buschemi) to go seek compensation for his soiled rug from the real Lebowski. This doesn’t go too well but shortly after The Dude is called back by Mr Lebowski to complete a task for him. Lebowski’s trophy wife Bunny (Tara Reid, yeah, she was in this) has been kidnapped and The Dude is asked to make the exchange with a $1 million in a briefcase. Naturally nothing goes according to the plan and The Dude before too long finds himself playing an unlikely gumshoe in this kidnapping. He even starts referring to it as a case showing just how much he’s really getting into it. Maybe the case is giving him a sense of purpose. Maybe he just wants his rug back. It’s more likely to be the latter.
Along the way he meets many rich and colourful characters and the mystery unravels like a true Raymond Chandler novel. This is film noir for the modern generation. Hell, I’d put it up there with noir greats like Chinatown and Double Indemnity as one of the greatest detective mysteries of all time. I make it sound like the film is serious though. It really isn’t. Not a scene goes by without some sort of funny line, quotable or memorable incidence. Whether it’s a marmot being thrown in The Dude’s bath, the introduction to The Jesus or the hilariously conflicting interactions between The Dude and Walter, every scene is stacked with brilliant dialogue and memorable lines.
Throughout the film every noir/crime thriller cliche you can imagine is brought in with a typically Coen Brothers style wry twist. A personal favorite is when The Dude attempts to reveal what Jackie Treehorn wrote on a notepad by rubbing a pencil across it. The reveal is not what you’ll expect. To add to that The Dude get’s lamped and his car goes through some incredible punishment in true down-on-his-luck gumshoe style. It seriously crashes at least 3 times and each is car based slapstick genius. In the midst of all this is two excellent dream sequences which are beautifully formed from various snippets of imagery that The Dude has witnessed. The second is a big old love up to the dance choreography of Busby Berkeley and very well done it is too. It’s so satisfying to see a modern film that pays tribute to classic films without it feeling shoehorned in or too obvious. Although obviously there’s no hiding the influence of a Berkeley dance sequence.
The interplay between all the characters is very well performed. You honestly will feel as though The Dude, Donnie and Walter are long time friends who have a rhythm to their conversations that has built over years. Everything from talking over each others lines, their getting on each others nerves to Walters multiple inflections of the phrase “Shut the fuck up Donnie!” feel more natural than anything you’d hear in say a Kevin Smith film. The Dude and Walter particularly have a beautifully crafted relationship. the Dude is very much a man of zen but Walter’s overly aggressive view of the world causes much conflict between the two. Often The Dude ends up losing his temper with Walter but despite that you can tell they care for each other a lot. Also keep and eye on how Donnie reacts to their conversations. It’s like he’s constantly out of sync with them. Also note that not one of his bowling shirts actually has his name on it.
Cinematically The Big Lebowski is shot very well. It should be too seeing as, like most of the Coens films, it was shot by Roger Deakins. Easily one of the best cinematographers ever. Other than the Coens work he has worked on Kundun, Sid & Nancy and The Reader. All very well shot films. He’s also working on the next Bond film which should hopefully mean it won’t look shite. Which instantly puts it a step above Quantum Of Solace. Roger Deakins is easily up there with Jack Kirby and Bill Pope.
I honestly can’t fault The Big Lebowski beyond maybe it’s slightly stalled finish which even then barely effects the film. Everything about the film is what good cinema is made of. It’s creative, inspirational and leaves a mark on everyone that views it. It has left this particular geek raised in the 80s with a dilemma though. When it comes to Jeff Bridges who do I associate him with first? Kevin Flynn or the Dude? Kevin Flynn in Tron introduced me to the possibility of a computer world where people lead their lives in The Grid. The Dude introduced me to White Russians.