After a case of mistaken identity Jeff ‘The Dude’ Lebowski (Jeff Bridges), an unemployed Los Angeles based slacker seeks out his millionaire namesake in order to complain about the mistreatment he received by mistake. The meeting is followed the next day by a call from the millionaire saying that his young, trophy wife has been kidnapped and he wants The Dude to be the bagman; delivering the money to the kidnappers. This sets off a chain of events which leaves The Dude bewildered and confused and all on the eve of his bowling league semi-finals.
The Big Lebowski is one of the hundreds of films which I’ve wanted to see for a long time and I’m happy I’ve finally sat down to watch it. I’m a fan of the Coen brothers’ work having really enjoyed seven of the eight of their films I’ve seen previously. This is most definitely joining those other seven and avoids being plonked in the bargain bin next to The Ladykillers. It’s packed full of great Coen dialogue and fantastical situations, all bought together with a great cast who are all on sparkling form.
All I knew about the film before seeing it was that Jeff Bridges played a character called The Dude. I guessed from that and the poster than he was some kind of stoner/slacker but that was all. All of that was true but there is so much more going on here. The Dude is the guy we probably all want to be and we probably are every now and then on a Sunday. He has no worries, no problems and lives his life how he wants to live it. He wears what he wants, smokes what he wants and happily enjoys White Russians at any time of day. There was a danger that someone like that could come off as unlikeable but in Jeff Bridges capable hands he is the kind of guy who you want to spend time with, smoking or drinking whatever takes your fancy and bowling the night away. He’s a fantastic character and the situations he is put in bring out the best he has to offer.
The plot is typically Coen with it featuring mistaken identities, brushes with the law and criminals, confusion and unlikely heroes that do their best with what they have. All of this is put together with witty and occasionally very funny dialogue but this isn’t a laugh a minute film. I probably laughed out loud four or five times but had a smile on my face throughout. As well as being happy to go along with the idiosyncratic characters on their strange journeys the film also on occasion drifts into fantasy. This occurs whenever The Dude is unconscious and helps to provide some of the most entertaining sequences in the entire film. Something that is slightly more subtle in the dialogue is the film’s anti-war message. The Dude is a pacifist and the second lead Walter (John Goodman) is a Vietnam Veteran who brings his and his comrades sacrifices up in almost every conversation. The film is also set against the backdrop of the Right Wing George H. Bush regime and the first Gulf War. At a time like this it is quite a statement that a liberal, pot smoking, unemployed, West Coast Dude is the film’s hero.
Along with a great script and incredible soundtrack which features classic pop and rock along with Carter Burwell’s Score, another great strength of the film is the acting. Every actor feels well suited and bedded into their character, perhaps none more so than Jeff Bridges’ The Dude. I honestly can’t imagine anyone else playing that character. He looks so natural in the role and delivers a fantastic performance. Phillip Seymour Hoffman is another who provides an excellently nuanced performance as the middle man between the two Lebowskis’. Equally, Julianne Moore is excellent as an avant-garde artist who has a great scene with Bridges late on. Steve Buscemi plays a character who is always one step behind his friends The Dude and Walter and constantly told to shut up or stay behind by the latter. He is great as the kind of confused child of the group and I’d like to have seen more from his character. The fact that we didn’t though is perhaps an ingenious Coen decision to make us want more. Despite all of those excellent performances, most notably from Jeff Bridges, the actor who really stands out for me is John Goodman who plays an angry Vietnam Vet with a chip on his shoulder. He is short tempered and cares more about bowling than any man should but delivers a superb performance. I thought he was really great.