A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Big Lebowski (Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, 1998)

The Coen brothers' movies are usually more in the vein of Billy Wilder's acerbic satire than the affectionately loopy take on the varieties of human eccentricity you find in Preston Sturges's films. But The Big Lebowski somehow manages to have touches of both Wilder and Sturges, with the latter, I think, finally predominating. Or maybe it's just that I find that Sam Elliott's appearance, mustache in full bloom, at the end of the film casts the entire movie in a benign light. (Elliott is one of those actors who can make almost any movie better just by showing up in it.) But what also brings Sturges to mind is the special texture he gave to his films with the use of his stock company of character actors like William Demarest, Franklin Pangborn, Jimmy Conlin, and the rest. And the Coens have done something similar by bringing in their usual gang: John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, John Turturro, among others. They also make use of such great actors as Philip Seymour Hoffman and Julianne Moore in supporting roles, and how can you not love a film that gives David Thewlis a bit part in which he does almost nothing but giggle? Still, The Big Lebowski would be nothing without Jeff Bridges, our least appreciated great actor, finding the right note for the stoned and indomitable Dude. He takes a licking -- gets beat up, has his rug pissed on, gets beat up again and has his replacement rug snatched from him, has his car stolen, is threatened by German nihilists, finds his car but its windows get smashed, has a mickey slipped into his White Russian, gets arrested and beaten by the Malibu police, gets thrown out of a cab because he objects to the driver's playing the Eagles, goes home to find his apartment trashed, and finally sees what's left of his car set fire to -- but the Dude abides. And somehow in the middle of all this he finds time to go bowling with Walter (Goodman) and Donny (Buscemi) and perform something like Three Stooges routines (only funny) with them. It has been labeled a "cult film," but it transcends that label. Everyone who loves it has their own favorite lines: Mine happen to be "That's the stress talking" and "Hey, careful, man, there's a beverage here!" I suppose I also have to mention the contributions of Roger Deakins's cinematography and Carter Burwell's score augmented by T Bone Burnett's invaluable work as "musical archivist," but then everyone covered themselves with glory by working on The Big Lebowski.