The Big Lebowski (1998)
“They figured he was a lazy time wasting slacker. They were right.”
Director: Joel Coen
Cast: Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Julianne Moore
Synopsis: “The Dude” Lebowski, mistaken for a millionaire Lebowski, seeks restitution for his ruined rug and enlists his bowling buddies to help get it.
The eponymous character of the Coen Brothers’ The Big Lebowski is played by David Huddleston, not Jeff Bridges. He’s a crippled businessman confined to a wheelchair (“some Chinaman took them from me in Korea” he informs The Dude (Jeff Bridges) who, by association as he shares the same name, is the Little Lebowski) with all the trappings of wealth but, as we learn at some point, little of the ability to acquire it, a revelation which explodes the Citizen Kane-like aura that had previously surrounded him. The Dude is a slacker of epic proportions. Chronically unemployed, he spends his day in a haze induced by a stream of White Russians and joints. His uniform is a tee-shirt, Bermuda shorts and dressing gown. He has a shaggy mane and a goatee beard.
The two Lebowskis world’s collide when a couple of thugs break into Dude’s rundown apartment. They’ve been sent by the porn king Jackie Treehorn (Ben Gazzara), to recover payment from the Big Lebowski, for a loan his wife Bunny (Tara Reid) is avoiding paying, but they somehow confuse Dude for the other Lebowski, and it’s only after one of them has urinated on Dude’s rug that they realise their mistake. Sorely disgruntled by the damage to his rug (‘it really tied the room together’), and unable at the time to identify who sent the thugs, Dude tries to get recompense from the Lebowski that Treehorn’s thugs were supposed to target. Everything about Lebowski’s life is the polar opposite to the Dude’s, but it’s also a sham — apart from the useless legs, as we later discover. Either way, Lebowski sends the Dude packing; but he’s soon back in touch, via his personal assistant Brandt (Philip Seymour Hoffman), when Bunny is kidnapped and he receives a ransom demand of $1 million.
The Dude accepts Lebowski’s offer of $20,000 for working as the middle-man with the kidnappers, but makes the mistake of telling his bowling buddies Walter Sobchak (John Goodman — an absolute hoot) and Donny Kerabatsos (Steve Buscemi). Walter’s a Vietnam vet who’s prone to murderous impulses when he encounters people who don’t abide by the rules, no matter how trivial they might be. We don’t really get to know a lot about Donny because whenever he tries to say anything Walter tells him to ‘shut the fuck up, Donny.’ Although he’s a stickler for the rules, Walter isn’t against tricking Dude into substituting the ransom money for a briefcase full of his dirty washing when it comes to the hand over — a move which sets in motion a chain of increasingly bizarre events.
I can never quite buy into the hype that surrounds the Coen Brothers’ The Big Lebowski and its slacker hero. I mean, I like The Dude, he’s a great character and I can see why such a cult would grow up around him, but for some reason I never feel that affinity towards him that so many others seem to. Lord knows, it’s not because I don’t have something of the slacker in me. He’s a pretty engaging character, though, and Jeff Bridges nails the part dead centre. The Dude has this cosy world that might seem pretty seedy to some, but he likes it the way it is, and when someone comes along and pisses on his rug, well, it will not stand.
The Dude’s character, and those of pretty much every other character, is enriched immeasurably by the wonderfully precise dialogue dreamed up by the Coen Brothers. Every scene seems to contain at least one memorable turn of phrase or quirky insight that often takes the movie off in almost surreal directions while somehow also keeping it grounded in the real world. All the characters are fantastic, but none of them are so fantastic that they couldn’t exist somewhere out there in the real world. The Coens might have exaggerated recognisable eccentricities while fashioning their eclectic cast of characters, but that doesn’t make them any less recognisable. You also get the impression that they take great care in the casting of their roles because, again, most of them are mildly extreme versions of the kind of people most of us come across every day. It’s a trick that makes the Coen Brothers’ world that much more intriguing than our own, and it’s why they keep us coming back for more.
(Reviewed 4th May 2013)