At the Movies with Alan Gekko: The Big Lebowski “98”

At the Movies with Alan Gekko: The Big Lebowski “98”

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Crime Comedy/Stars: Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Julianne Moore, Steve Buscemi, David Huddleston, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Tara Reid, John Turturro, Sam Elliott, David Thewlis, Ben Gazzara, Peter Stormare, Torsten Voges, Flea, Jon Polito, Philip Moon, Mark Pellegrino, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Jack Kehler, Dom Irrera, Harry Bugin, Jesse Flanagan, Leon Russom, Warren Keith, Marshall Manesh, Asia Carrera, Aimee Mann, Richard Gant, Christian Clemenson/Runtime: 117 minutes

I think it’s safe to say that there are several distinct categories of movies in the world around us. The first is the kind of movie that immediately is able to find success with both critics and the general movie going public. The second is the type of film that immediately sinks with both of the aforementioned groups and is thus doomed to be remembered at best as merely a footnote in the release schedule for the year that it first came out and at worst as a movie that definitely will leave you wondering what in the world the creative talents involved both behind and in front of the camera were thinking when they decided to sign their name on the dotted line and make it. With that in mind though, there is also a third category that I most assuredly feel should be brought up here as well. That being the type of film that might not exactly set either the critics or casual movie goer abuzz and yet, over a period of time, manages to acquire a newfound degree of love and praise from both groups respectively. The reason I bring this up dear reader is because I think it can be safely said without a doubt in my mind that the slice of cinema I am reviewing for you today, 1998’s The Big Lebowski, definitely fits into the last category like a pair of comfortable bowling shoes or a well-made White Russian. Indeed here is a slice of cinema that when it first came out didn’t exactly get the most glowing reviews, but has since become a cult favorite that even has both its own festival and (I kid you not) a religious movement attached to it. Yet even though it took quite awhile for a fair number of critics to come around and give this slice of cinema the love it deserves, I can safely say dear reader that was never the case with me. I say that because I have always loved the heck out of this movie ever since I first saw this movie and I always will. To be sure, there are some miniscule issues with this slice of cinema, but with absolutely incredible work being done both behind as well as in front of the camera it can be said that The Big Lebowski is not only a bonafide comedy gem and a fantastic entry in its helming duo’s fairly iconic filmography, but also one of the definitive movies of the 90s and a true must-see in every sense of the word respectively.

The plot is as follows: Taking us into the world of early 90s Los Angeles, The Big Lebowski gets underway by introducing us, via enigmatic delivery from a mysterious stranger (no seriously that’s what he’s credited as), to a man by the name of Jeffrey Lebowski or, as he prefers to be called, The Dude (or El Duderino if you’re not into the whole brevity thing). The Dude, we rather quickly pick up on, is a fairly down to earth, relaxed, and just decent guy whose main worries in life usually seem to be taking it easy as much as possible, doing the best he can in his bowling league, and never running out of the ingredients to his alcoholic drink of choice. I say usually though because, for a period of time, we see that life has decided to throw in some extra worries for our intrepid hero here. A collection of worries that start when, upon returning home from a visit to the grocery store, The Dude is quickly attacked in his home by a pair of menacing-looking thugs demanding money from him. Yet, in a weird wrinkle, we see that the thugs have attacked the wrong guy. You see dear reader it turns out that there is ANOTHER Jeffrey Lebowski living in the L.A. area who has a bit more of a net worth and that is who these men are after. Suffice it to say that, upon realizing their mistake, the thugs decide to make a hasty getaway though not before defiling a rather important possession of our hero’s home in a way I shan’t spoil here. At any rate, we see that isn’t long before our hero, whilst discussing the incident with his friends/bowling teammates Walter and Donny, decides to pay the other Lebowski a visit in order to get what he feels is necessary compensation for this wrong. Yet by doing so, we see that our hero isn’t just seemingly meeting with someone. Rather, he is also taking us on the first steps of a truly unique journey. One that, by its conclusion, will also see a kidnapping plot emerge as well as our hero interacting with a collection of truly quirky characters including an rather eccentric to put it mildly avant-garde artist named Maude, a more than slightly sleazy member of the adult film community named Jackie Treehorn, a rather flamboyant fellow bowler by the name of Jesus Quintana, and a whole roster of other intriguing individuals in search of….well I’m not entirely sure what he’s searching for, but if there is one thing that I am sure of it’s the fact that by the end this is one journey you won’t forget anytime soon.

Now right off the proverbial bat, it should be noted that the work done behind the camera is, to no surprise given that this is a Coen Brothers cinematic outing, absolutely fantastic. This starts with the fact that the landscape for this slice of cinema is filmed and shot by iconic cinematographer Rodger Deakins in a manner that is truly second to none. Perhaps one of the best examples of this in the entire film is found when the Dude, through means I shan’t spoil for you here, finds himself smack dab in the middle of a psychedelic bowling musical bit set to the tune of Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In). Yes, the entire scene might be one that will make some of the more serious-minded amongst you raise an eyebrow, but for the rest of you I can definitely see the unashamedly giddy absurdity of this scene (and just the movie in general) will leave you with a smile on your face much like it does mine every time I watch it. Along with that, it should be noted that the Coens have long showed off tremendous skill at writing quirky and zany dialogue in their cinematic efforts and that is the case here as well with the various back and forth spats of sorts between all the various characters, but with particular regard to the ones had by The Dude and Walter being proof of that aforementioned skill in every sense of the word. We also see that, from a visual perspective, this slice of cinema’s co-helmer Joel Cohen has managed to top his previous work as he manages to delightedly reinforce this movie’s enthusiastic and well-penned script with a stylish yet also psychedelic allure right down to filming a bowling alley in such a way that it looks a lot more majestic than they usually are on a busy weeknight. Heck, Joel is even able to insert a smaller camera into a bowling ball for moments throughout the film that will leave you in an equal mix of both reaching for the Tylenol and in awe of the skill with the camera being put on display for all of us. Now, if there is an issue in regards to the behind the camera work that I can see a fair amount of you raising, it would be the fact that the narrative at the core of the film does seem to be a bit on the scattershot side and that is definitely a fair point. However, after thinking it over and seeing the movie a number of times, I realize that not only is this part of the film’s charm, but it is also appropriate to the film as well. I say this because this is a story we are seeing through the perspective of someone who is content to do nothing except engage in certain substances, drink White Russians, and bowl. In other words: this is a man who has no direction to his life and in a weird way the film’s narrative operates as a proper reflection of its main character’s directionless point of view. Suffice it to say that when you also manage to factor in a wonderfully wide-ranging soundtrack of music gems, it becomes quite clear to me that this slice of cinema’s behind the camera work truly is top-flight in every sense of the word.

Of course, the other big element that can help a slice of cinema, especially one in this vein, either sink or swim is the work done by the cast of players assembled in front of the camera toward bringing the characters in the film’s story to life. In that regard, you can definitely breathe a little bit easier because the cast of players in this slice of cinema is uniformly extremely well-chosen and they all do a fantastic job. This starts (to no surprise) with Jeff Bridges in the role of The Dude and honestly he is more than just fantastic in the part. Rather, he is the perfect fit. Not just in the wardrobe he is rocking throughout in this slice of cinema (a feat incidentally that can be attributed to the fact that a lot of the clothes the Dude wears are actually clothes that belonged to Jeff Bridges). Rather, it is also in how Bridges portrays this guy as a mix of laid-back, relaxed, slightly sarcastic, irritable at points especially whenever his friend Walter is engaged some kind of insane or stupid shenanigans, proud of who he is to say nothing of his position in life, and yet also prone to moments where he is also an incredibly decent guy such as when he agrees to attend his landlord’s dance recital or is worried about what could happen to another character when they find themselves seemingly the victim of a kidnapping gone awry. Suffice it to say that it might be a weird comparison, but much like Robert Downey Jr is Iron Man and Harrison Ford is Indiana Jones so too is Jeff Bridges in the role of The Dude. Indeed not only can you not tell where one ends and the other begins, but Bridges proves to be so brilliant in the part that you truly cannot see anyone else playing the part. As brilliant and iconic as Bridges is in the role of The Dude, so too can an argument be made for John Goodman in the role of The Dude’s best friend/#1 cause for any ulcers that he may have in this life Walter Sobchak. Indeed, much like Jeff Bridges, I have long been a fan of John Goodman and here is absolutely phenomenal in the role of this hair-trigger temper of a guy who is equally as skilled at tying seemingly everything into Vietnam as he is at ensuring that not only does he not bowl whatsoever on the Jewish day of rest Shabbat, but at just being a general blowhard in nearly every aspect of the word. Indeed it is very much an extremely well-done character and one that Goodman manages to play beautifully. Suffice it to say that when you also factor in winning efforts from such talents as a delightfully dry as well as comically meandering turn from underrated screen talent (and winner of Moustache Monthly’s Man of the Year award for a while now) Sam Elliott, Steve Buscemi, a wonderfully sleazy Ben Gazzara, Peter Stormare, Jon Polito, Phillip Seymour Hoffman as every yes-man to a respective employer’s role model, Julianne Moore, David Huddleston, David Thewlis, Tara Reid, and a brief yet iconic turn from John Turturro that I promise you will have you cracking up due to how outlandishly goofy it is among others it’s clear as crystal that this slice of cinema’s cast not only is top-tier, but they all manage to deliver fantastic performances no matter how big or small their role in the grand scheme of things may be.

All in all I can’t lie to you dear reader: there may be a lot of movies out there that are similar to one another, but there really truly is only one The Big Lebowski and honestly that’s really all we as movie goers should ever need. I say that because I really do dig the heck out of this slice of cinema. Yes, I have no doubt in my mind that there will be some of you out there who read this review, sit down, watch this movie, and come out of it with a confused look on your face and saying to yourself “so what exactly IS the big deal about this movie?” For all the rest of you though, I promise that you will find more than ample to enjoy here. Yes there are a few hiccups here and there throughout this slice of cinema’s runtime and yes some characters do feel like they might have had more material that, despite the work being done by the actors in those respective roles, sadly wound up on the cutting room floor. At the same time though, the work being done behind the camera by the iconic film helming duo that is Joel and Ethan Cohen, their usual team of skilled collaborators, and even some people who were a wee bit new to their distinct way of doing things at the time proves to be absolutely magical in every sense of the word. As for the work done in front of the camera, that too thankfully proves to be just as brilliant with a lead performance from screen icon Jeff Bridges that is no more or less than instantly iconic and a collection of support performances from a group of top-tier talent that, no matter how big or small their role in the proceedings may turn out to be, all managing to match Bridges’ skill beat for beat and in the process deliver phenomenal performances in their own right as well. Suffice it to say then that if you are the kind of person who can get behind a slice of cinema like this one then I think it can be said that this is a film which, much like its intrepid yet laid back hero, will most assuredly be willing to abide to you sitting down and watching it time and time again with the same amount of glee and enthusiasm be it your 1st or 501st time in this truly zany cinematic landscape unlike any other. Make of that what thou will dear reader. On a scale of 1-5 I give The Big Lebowski “98” a solid 4 out of 5.