Monday, July 22, 2013

Movie #199: The Big Lebowski

The Big Lebowski is a Coen brothers take on The Big Sleep. The first time I saw it, I didn't get that connection (though I saw the nods to noir and the detective genre) because I hadn't seen Big Sleep, but now that I have, it's pretty obviously a version of that story in the same way that O Brother Where Art Thou is a version of The Odyssey (we'll get to 'O' eventually). Anyway, The Big Lebowski stars Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Julianne Moore, Steve Buscemi, John Turturro, Tara Reid (long before her star-making turn in Sharknado) and Philip Seymour Hoffman.

So: Bridges is Jeff Lebowski, known to all as "Dude." He's unemployed (how he pays his rent is never really discussed), and spends his time bowling with his buddies Walter (Goodman) and Donny (Buscemi), drinking white Russians, and smoking weed. And then two dudes kick in his door, pee on his rug, beat him up and demand money his wife owes them...only they have the wrong Lebowski.

The one they want is an older, wheelchair bound millionaire with the same name (played by David Huddleston), whose young trophy wife Bunny (Reid) owes money to a porn magnate. Dude figures the guy owes him a rug, and successfully scams one from him, but then Bunny gets kidnapped, and Dude gets roped into being the courier for the ransom money. And, from there, it just gets really complex, as more and more people start asking Dude to find money, investigate money, find people, and so on. Dude, for his part, is motivated by promises of rewards, but that really only goes so far, and Walter, his violent, Nam-obsessed, know-it-all buddy, really drives things forward by screwing everything up.

The dialog is fast, repetitive and laced with expletives, and you get a good sense of how the friendship between Dude and Walter works (though as Michelle points out, it's not really a healthy friendship, especially for the Dude). Julianne Moore and Philip Seymour Hoffman have awesome supporting roles as Lauren Bacall Lebowski's daughter and his assistant, respectively, and there's a nice bit where Jon Polito shows up as a hired dick, mistaking Dude for a fellow detective. Dude, for his part, refuses to acknowledge what his role in all this is, though he does take the time to call the Big Lebowski out trying to set him up.

All in all, I think this is one of the best Coen films - it's dark without being bleak (like Fargo), but funny enough that I think it qualifies as a comedy. And, of course, it's quotable as hell.

My grade: A
Rewatch value: High

Next up: The Gift