Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #225
Number of Views: Multiple
Release Date: 6 March 1998 (USA)
Genre: Black Comedy
Country of Origin: United States/United Kingdom
Box Office: $46,189,568
Running Time: 119 minutes
Director: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Producers: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner
Screenplay: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Cinematography: Roger Deakins
Score: Carter Burwell
Editing: Tricia Cooke, Roderick Jaynes
Studios: Working Title Films, Bitter Creek Productions Inc, Polygram Filmed Entertainment
Distributor: Gramercy Pictures, Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Stars: Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Julianne Moore, Steve Buscemi, David Huddleston, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Tara Reid, Philip Moon, Mark Pellegrino, Peter Stormare, Flea, Torsten Voges, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Jack Kehler, John Turturro, Ben Gazzera
Suggested Audio Candy
Mickey Newbury “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)”
I feel for The Dude I really do. Such a placid, congenial fellow; he has no goal other than taking it easy. I empathize greatly with his plight and know the desire to lead a simple life and need to occasionally be left to my own devices. We’re not bad folk, me and The Dude. But bad shit seems to follow us around like airport luggage and strife is never any more than one pratfall away but our intentions are unswervingly noble. We abide as best as we can, cope admirably with each shit storm which brews above our heads and invariably end up with an embolism for our troubles, or beardful of ashes in the case of El Duderino.
It’s hard to think of a more affable character but where The Dude falters is in the company he keeps. His cross to bear is Walter Sobchak, a cranky war veteran who never fully returned from active duty. Try as he may to take it easy and enjoy the one rug which ties his room together, Walter just can’t help himself and ends up scuppering each of his plans and sinking him deeper in the mire. There are three in this bowling team and the insignificant other is hapless Donny Kerabatsos, you know, Donny who loves bowling, a misunderstood non-entity who trumps even The Dude when it comes to outrageously dour fortunes.
The Big Lebowski may well be one of most gut-bustingly hilarious works ever to hit our screens. It is a comedy of errors, a case of mistaken identity and an absolute hoot from start to finale. It places an infinitely lovable protagonist in the most horrendous set of ever-escalating circumstances, testing his calm demeanor at every turn until eventually something gives. Just when something begins to look as though it may go his way he has the rug, metaphorically and otherwise, pulled from under his feet and is plunged headlong into downright bedlam, the one thing he craves to sidestep.
The Coen brothers can seemingly do nothing wrong. When they’re good (Blood Simple, Fargo, No Country for Old Men) they are simply majestic and when they’re not (The Ladykillers) they’re still better than most of the other film-makers on the planet. Of course it helps that there are two of them, strength in numbers shall we say, although it is more than just that. They are the most consistently high-rolling dudes in the industry and have proven this time and again with work which is difficult to criticize, on a technical level or otherwise. If you are partial to their work the The Big Lebowski is pure nirvana personified.
Much as his dudeness attempts to focus on the bigger picture, he is incessantly victimized, beaten and belittled. Much of the pain and mental anguish brought his way comes courtesy of gun nut Walter’s constant spouting of hot air and frequent inopportune impulses. John Goodman’s performance is truly exalted and his well-intentioned but gormless actions provide us with a screen partnership more kinetic than nigh on any other in cinematic history. We are gifted numerous reaction shots as another catastrophe plays out before us and they are simply awe-inspiring together.
Of course, this being a film by the Coens, we are also treated to a superb ensemble cast which includes Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore, Peter Stormare, Ben Gazzera and, I’ve left the cream for the cat, John Turturro who plays bowling champ and known sex offender Jesus Quintana. Clad in hairnet and finest stretch polyester, he is something of a one scene wonder but what a scene! Every single player excels and, this being a Coen brothers movie, we are exposed to all manner of kooks, cretins and nihilists.
Ultimately however, this film belongs to Jeff Bridges. His slovenly sloth is handsomely realized and you desperately want things to work out for him. Totally divorced from the world around him, he ambles around in his pajamas, sandals and shades only wishing for the occasional White Russian and a nice warm bath, minus the ferret. Over the course of the film he learns that freedom is understanding he is not in control and never will be. Taking the pilgrimage alongside him is an unparalleled delight.
Have you ever laughed until a little bit of wee has come out? If the answer is yes then I can recommend a good urologist. I can’t guarantee he will be able be able to halt your bladder from excavating here however as The Big Lebowski is guffaw-laden in the extreme. The Coens have built a career out of making us laugh from the pits of our stomachs at the least opportune moments when we’re not convinced we should be laughing at all and this film is littered with priceless moments of unforced hilarity. They’re unconcerned with narrative momentum, scornful of formal aesthetics but know all the right buttons to press without exception.
Despite the fact that this followed hot on the heels of their Academy Award winning Fargo and the brothers were deemed incapable of putting an unaccounted for painted toe wrong, it was astonishingly met with indifference upon its release. This trend perpetuated itself when, after the somber masterpiece No Country for Old Men cleaned up, they followed with the excellent Burn After Reading which divided critics in the same manner. I love Fargo dearly, No Country For Old Men unquestionably too, but its these ensuing light interludes for Keeper that show the Coens at their more harebrained and playful and The Big Lebowski is no less adroit.
There is no other motion picture in existence quite like The Big Lebowski. It also steals the award for best movie ever set in a bowling alley from The Farrelly Brothers’ glorious Kingpin and that, in itself is no mean feat. It is one of those all-too-rare creatures that matures with every subsequent view, you’ll still be noticing dramatic ironies, character arcs and ingenious wordplay that you missed previously after a bunch of views and that is the sign of true comedy gold. Mark it!
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 10/10
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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