The Coen Brothers deliver a masterful farce that turns the hard-boiled detective story on its ear by replacing the usual down-on-his-luck gumshoe with Jeff Lebowski (Jeff Bridges), better known as “The Dude,” a pot-smoking, White Russian-drinking bowler, who finds himself in the middle of a Raymond Chandler novel, complete with kidnapping, mistaken identity, embezzlement and double crosses.
The movie hooks the viewer immediately as hired goons mistake The Dude for another Jeff Lebowski (David Huddleston), a millionaire whose young wife, Bunny (Tara Reid), is running up debts all over town. Before the error is realized, one of the goons, Woo the Chinaman (Philip Moon), pees on The Dude’s rug, which is a shame because “it really tied the room together.” The Dude goes to see Mr. Lebowski to get compensation for the rug because, as The Dude quotes President Bush regarding Iraq’s entry into Kuwait, “this aggression will not stand.” The debts are settled, but The Dude is called back to assist his namesake as a courier when Bunny is kidnapped and a ransom is demanded. The Dude accepts the offer because it sounds like easy money. He figures Bunny faked her kidnapping to get some money; however, when the drop is bungled and the kidnappers deliver Bunny’s toe, The Dude soon finds himself caught up in a world of nihilists, pornographers, feminist artists, and aquatic marmots, all while trying to make the league finals and dealing with occasional acid flashbacks, one of which recalls a Busby Berkely dance number set to Kenny Rogers & The First Edition’s “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Is In)”.
The Big Lebowski is a perfect example of the thin line that separates genius and madness. The elements of the story appear utterly insane when out of context, yet when they are combined properly, they make complete sense, creating order out of apparent chaos. The film is even full of life lessons as Larry, the suspected car thief, learns “what happens when you fuck a stranger in the ass.”
Aside from the strong plot, the film is packed with marvelous performances led by Jeff Bridges, who seamlessly disappears into his role. If the character wasn’t so out there, he might have been recognized for his outstanding work. The Coens wrote parts for their usual cast members: Steve Buscemi as mild-mannered Donny, John Goodman as verbose Vietnam Veteran Walter and John Turturro as Jesus Quintana, whose trash talking is absolutely hysterical and gets funnier each time I see it. Jon Polito and Peter Stormare, other members of the Coen repertory troupe, appear in smaller roles. The Coens also specifically wrote for actors Sam Elliot and Julianne Moore.
The film requires repeated viewings to catch all the laughs. They don’t write jokes, but the way the characters think and talk is hilarious. The dialogue is densely filled with well-written gems that you will want to repeat later with your friends.
The language is very raw and obscene, but it’s so natural to the characters that they aren’t even aware of it. When The Stranger (Sam Elliott), who narrates the tale, asks the Dude if he has “to use so many cuss words,” the Dude replies, “What the fuck you talking about?” Almost every response Walter has to Donny’s questions is “Shut the fuck up, Donny,” yet Donny is never offended.
When I first saw The Big Lebowski in the theaters, I didn’t get it, but upon a second viewing I now see the film’s brilliance as one of the best detective films of all time. And I am not alone. The ranks of the film’s fans are growing. Lebowski Fest is a celebration of the film that takes place three times a year currently.
The new DVD has a strange opening sequence by the fictional company Forever Young Preservations. It was more odd than anything else. “Making-of The Big Lebowski” is a 25-min feature that offers an insightful interview with the Coen Brothers about the creation and shooting of the film. The video has been digitally remastered, which is very apparent compared to the film scenes in this feature. There are also photos taken by Jeff Bridges.
To paraphrase the Stranger, “It’s good knowin’ the DVD’s out there.” The Big Lebowski is also available in an Achiever’s Edition gift box that comes with coasters cards and a towel.