Tuesday, August 21, 2018

The Big Lebowski

★★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

Since their film debut, 1984's Blood Simple, the Coen brothers, Joel & Ethan Coen, have created a path to becoming the greatest directing duo in film history. Populating their films with gorgeous scenery & very idiosyncratic characters, they have jumped through many genres, including comedies, dramas, & thrillers, succeeding in all of those genres.

When The Big Lebowski was released in 1998, many were polarized by it: compared to the Coen brothers' previous film, Fargo, which was widely considered to be the best film of that year, it was a major letdown for some, criticizing its meandering storyline & some other aspects. However, others absolutely appreciated it, notably the late Roger Ebert, who gave it a positive review on release & later added it to his Great Movies list. Over time, the reception has become vastly positive, consistently ranking as one of the Coen brothers' best films. The film has gone on to spawn an annual festival called Lebowski Fest, & a religion called The Church of the Latter-Day Dude, or simply Dudeism. It is one of my favorite films of all time, & having the chance to see it in theaters for its 20th anniversary was an absolute spectacle. Set in 1991 Los Angeles, around the time of our conflict with Saddam Hussein, the film follows Jeffrey Lebowski, AKA The Dude (played by Jeff Bridges), a slacker. He spends his days drinking White Russians, occassionally smoking a joint, or bowling with his buddies: hot-headed Vietnam veteran & Jewish convert Walter Sobchak (played by John Goodman), & meek surfer Theodore Donald Kerabatsos, AKA Donny (played by Steve Buscemi), where they face off against some weird personalities, including pervert Jesus Quintana, AKA The Jesus (played by John Turturro), who is a natural at bowling.

One night, The Dude's house is broken into by 2 goons sent by porn producer/entrepreneur Jackie Treehorn (played by Ben Gazzara), looking for money. However, they have mistaken The Dude for another Jeffrey Lebowski, AKA The Big Lebowski (played by David Huddleston), an elderly, disabled millionaire who runs a program sending children to college. The goons leave, but not before one of them urinates on The Dude's rug, which really tied the room together.

At a bowling match, The Dude tells Walter (& Donny, but is told by Walter to "Shut the f*ck up!") of his current situation. Walter suggests he go to meet The Big Lebowski & settle the matter with him. When The Dude meets The Big Lebowski, asking to be compensated for his rug, The Big Lebowski vehemently declines, calling The Dude "a bum." However, he tells The Big Lebowski's butler, Brandt (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman), that he can take any rug in the house. Before he leaves, The Dude runs into The Big Lebowski's air-headed trophy wife, Bunny (played by Tara Reid).

A few days later, The Dude is called back to The Big Lebowski's mansion, & is told that Bunny was kidnapped, & is being held for ransom at $1,000,000. However, Walter gets involved (as The Dude was told to go alone), & lets his greedy nature screw up the plan, as he believes that Bunny faked the kidnapping.

Over the next few weeks, The Dude encounters some very strange people, including: The Stranger (played by Sam Elliott), the narrator & kind man at the bowling alley; Knox Harrington (played by David Thewlis), an off-beat video artist; the three German nihilist kidnappers: Uli Kunkel (played by Peter Stormare); Franz (played by Torsten Voges); & Kieffer (played by Flea); & Maude Lebowski (played by Julianne Moore), The Big Lebowski's daughter. The Dude must figure out what is going on & who is doing what, if he ever wants to get back to his lazy way of life.

The cast is marvelous. Jeff Bridges is absolutely iconic in the role he was born to play. John Goodman gives his greatest performance ever. Julianne Moore is perfectly idiosyncratic. Steve Buscemi is at his most Steve Buscemi. And the rest of the cast, especially Turturro, Huddleston & Hoffman, turn in great supporting work.

The Coen brothers' direction is phenomenal. The Coens blend the classic elements of film noir with perfect comedic timing, & it feels so fresh & dynamic.

The Coen brothers' screenplay is brilliant. The plot is perfectly meandering, the characters are the most interestingly idiosyncratic in film history, & the dialogue is gut-bustingly hilarious.

Roger Deakins' cinematography is amazing. Deakins, a longtime collaborator of the Coen brothers' & also the best cinematographer ever, paints the film with a vibrant color palette & a crisp throwback look.

The editing by "Roderick Jaynes" (actually the Coen brothers) & Tricia Cooke is excellent. The film doesn't have a bad cut in sight, & is perfectly paced.

And the soundtrack is fantastic. Led by many classic pop songs from the 1960s, especially Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In) by The First Edition, the soundtrack strengthens the 1960s mindset & way of life The Dude embodies.

This is, in my opinion, the funniest film ever made, & also the Coen brothers' best film. It has some knockout performances, stellar direction, one of the best screenplays ever written, & has a look & feel all its own. The Dude abides.

The Big Lebowski was seen by me for a special 20th anniversary screening at the AMC Forum 30 in Sterling Heights, MI on Wednesday, August 8, 2018. It is available on Blu-ray, DVD & Digital HD. Its runtime is 118 minutes, & it is rated R for pervasive strong language, drug content, sexuality & brief violence.

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