Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Second Age Review Backlog 5: The Big Lebowski

Before I begin, I'd like to apologize for this taking so long. Normally, I write these on the train ride home and edit them the next morning. However this time, my laptop charger was broken and you know how that is. Alright, so let's get rolling.

The Big Lebowski is an odd film. For the vast majority of other directors, it would be their greatest work, their Blade Runner against which all other efforts must inevitably be compared. For the Coen brothers it doesn't even enter their top 3. Fargo still holds the top spot, No Country for Old Men takes an extraordinarily close second, with O Brother Where Art Thou taking a solid third. I suppose that's less a commentary on the film's quality itself and more a commentary on the vast skill of the Coen Brothers.

It's also odd in it's presentation. Unlike most films, and even books, where we are occasionally pulled out of the primary characters perspective to be given information they have yet to obtain in The Big Lebowski we remain stuck in the main characters perspective for the duration, with the exception of 2 tiny bits of information we gain in the last 20 minutes. We gain information as he does and, for the most part, remain as confused as he does, almost the entire film. It's one of the few examples in film form of what amounts to first person narration.

To the plot: Jeffery Lebowski (played by the always fantastic Jeff Bridges) is a perpetual slacker living in LA during the 90's, who goes by the name The Dude. In literally the first few moments of the film, he is mistaken for a billionaire of the same name, who's wife Bunny owes money all over time. While demanding the money back, one of the thugs urinates on his rug which "Really tied the room together." The Dude goes to visit the other Jeffery Lebowski (David Huddleston), demanding recompense for his rug. This act throws him into a huge and mostly nonsensical mystery, concerning the location of the possibly kidnapped Bunny Lebowski and who has the million dollars in ransom.

Other characters are odd and mostly swirl around The Dude, aiding or assisting him in his quest, ranging from the distant but sexual Maude Lebowski (Julianne Moore) to the The Dude's incompetent and easily angered advisor Walter Sobchak (played by Coen Brother favorite, John Goodman). The effect of switching from the high class art lofts to the lower class bowling alleys to the beach side estate of a pornographer gives the film a surreal quality, boosted by fantastic performances all around.

Of the technical details, the films soundtrack stands the most out. The songs are well chosen and eclectic, include a Gypsy King cover of Hotel California, an oddly chosen Creedence Clearwater Revival (No, not Bad Moon Rising) song and an amazingly used Kenny Rogers bit during a dream sequence.

Acting is all around fantastic. Jeff Bridges (he was in Tron, remember?) does a fantastic job as The Dude, but then despite being the main character, he has the easiest job. He is the rock, an emotional constant who treats all of this mystery as merely a distraction or something of mild interest. All he truly wants is his rug back.

No, all the hard acting work is shifted onto the supporting cast, who rise to the occasion admirably. Aside from the aforementioned amazing performances by Julianne Moore, John Goodman and David Huddleston there are several minor characters worthy of note. Phillp Seymour Hoffman, who would go on to win a well deserved Oscar for his performance as Truman Capote, does a memorable suck-up to Mr. Lebowski.John Turturro does a fan favorite performance as Jesus Quintana who is memorable all on his own, despite less than 10 minutes on screen.Tara Reid as Bunny (who's only other notable role was as Danni Sullivan in Scrubs) does a good job with even less time. Despite being the touch off point for the entire plot, Bunny has less than 2 minutes on screen total, and uses it for some quick characterization and symbolism. And who could get through a review of this movie without mentioning Donny, played by another Coen brother favorite, Steve Buscemi, the bowling buddy of Walter and The Dude, who is never quite caught up with the conversation.

The writing is given all the care and attention it usually is in a Coen Brother film. Both the dialogue and the visuals are full of symbolism and suggestion. I could literally go on for hours about the use of symbolism, but A) That's another article entirely and B) It's been done, better than I could do it. The characters are, of course, unique and engaging, and the story flows so perfectly it almost feels like it has to be a real event.

The only problems are minor. First and foremost, the film has a mild case of what one of my close friends labels as "Stanley Kubrick Syndrome." Directly after viewing the film you may find yourself turning to your fellow viewer and saying "That was amazing, what happened?" I never found the film exceptionally confusing, but several people I know have expressed bewilderment about the ending, so advance warning.

The cinematography is fine, but boring. With the exception of a couple of nice uses of light and camera angles during a dream sequence, the camera work never really bothers to rise up as high as the acting or screenplay. I dunno, maybe it's just because I'm more used to the fantastic use of bleak wasteland from Fargo, or the lush sepia altered landscapes from O Brother Where Art Thou, but LA has trouble being visually interesting to me.

But neither of those things really matter. This movie isn't about the visuals or the ending. It's about the story, about The Dude and the strange world that moves around and through him. It's about how when you roll a gutter, you need to grab your ball and roll again. And overall, it's completely brilliant. So you go seek it out, if you haven't already, and I'll see you next time.

Next on Second Age Reviews: The Creature From the Black Lagoon

Elesar is a 20 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he's actually not all that fond of bowling.

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