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29. EMPIRE MAGAZINE GREATEST: The Big Lebowski

September 6, 2018

Director: Joel Coen
Screenplay: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Starring: Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Julianne Moore, Steve Buscemi, David Huddleston, John Turturro
Runtime: 98 Minutes

 

Original UK Release: 1998

 

★★★★☆


A recurring trend in a number of the Coen Brother’s ensemble comedy pieces is a tendency to keep the plot as loose as possible. This allowing for their more scene-focused energies to flourish when needed. At times the nature of this invented convolution has entered the story itself as the characters exhaustedly grapple with the flying threads of their plotlines, and The Big Lebowski is where this really comes full form for them.

 

Owing more than just a minor debt to the works of Raymond Candler – more specifically The Big Sleep – this is a mystery crime story where, instead of hardboiled detectives, broad dames, quips and gunplay, the world is populated by a multitude of some of the most inept individuals imaginable to be left in charge of such a careening and intentionally nonsensical plot.

 

Our guide on this quest is “The Dude”, played by Jeff Bridges in a career-defining performance. He’s absolutely perfect as the matured flower child who refuses to pull up his slacks. His friends in the form of the demented veteran Walter (an irate John Goodman), and Donny (an uncommon Steve Buscemi) merely tag along for the ride and derail things whenever the plot begins to get too straight forward. Constantly invading this kidnap plot are David Huddleston’s titular millionaire, Julianne Moore’s jaded feminist artist, Peter Stormare’s nihilist and an assortment of fabulously placed bit parts from Hoffman, Elliot, Turturro, Polito and Thewlis.

 

Directed by Joel, this is one of their most visually distinctive and memorable pictures. The glorification of tenpin bowling as El Duderino’s heaven unfolds in one of their most beautifully filmed and choreographed sequences, but the general staging, timing and editing of the comedy and violence is impossible to distil down to a single quality. It’s quotable, musical, chaotic but ideally entertaining work.

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