On Tuesday, 10/18 a Special Edition of THE BIG LEBOWSKI comes to DVD. Continuing my look at movies where my Strong Opinion doesn’t agree with the general consensus, I've reprinted my mixed review, written when the film first opened.
THE BIG LEBOWSKI clearly demonstrates why I love the Coen Brothers, but not as much as I’d like to. The film shows talent and ability from the basement to the penthouse. It is well-written, cast, acted, directed and it looks great. It also leaks, creaks and each great floor starts to look too much like the one before it. Depending on your mood, you will either find the movie to be an over-rated pile-up of undeveloped concepts or an under-appreciated comedy gem full of eccentric quirkiness.
The script is like a garage sale of characters that didn’t fit into previous Coen films, but are too clever to destroy. It may be why the film is set in L.A., the only city that could contain such a diversity of lunacy. (90 minutes in, we’re still meeting new characters). There’s a real “let’s throw this at the wall and see what sticks” quality.
Jeff Bridges is supremely cool as “the Dude”, but I don’t think his character is very consistent. He’s defined as the laziest man alive, but while his attire and dialogue support this, his behavior is actually pretty motivated and excited when the script requires him to be.
John Goodman is right on target as a war nut, but he’s also a bit of a boor, and his character has an annoying habit of repeating himself over and over again. His mean behavior towards fellow bowling chum Steve Buscemi is meant to be funny, but it’s really just harsh. Consistant with the film’s slap-dash tone, sometimes I thought Bridges and Goodman had great chemistry. Other times they were so unlikable it was like a bad pairing of Tommy Chong and Tom Arnold.
My favorite character is Jesus, played by John Turturro. He steals every frame he’s in, and gets the funniest introduction. He’s not in it enough. (Heck, he’s hardly in it at all.) I also really liked Sam Elliott as the narrator who, in telling such a wandering story, loses his own train of thought. His final monologue is one of my favorite bits. Julianne Moore is interesting, with a very unique tone to her voice, but there’s nothing too special about her character or acting.
I think the problem with all Coen movies to various degrees is that while they are incredibly gifted writers and amongst the most creatively visual directors working today, their two talents play against each other. Great visual movies build on scripts that run loose with imagination and leave lots of room for the director to play in once they get to their lavishly built set. Movies like THE FISHER KING and L.A. STORY – which does a much better job evoking the nuttiness of the city – created larger than life characters existing in a world that’s similar to ours, but not.

Great writing concentrates on story, dialogue and characters with surprising dimensions. With a great script, the visuals should compliment the actors (like with FORREST GUMP) but not attempt to overwhelm them. The Coens write tight stories with unique characters, and then direct with a love for their environment instead of a love for their journey. (Nobody’s ever changed by the course of events in a Coen story.)

THE FISHER KING has that great scene where Robin Williams follows the girl of his dreams through Grand Central Station, and the other people break out into a ballroom dance. The scene looks great, but the fantasy also works within the context of the story. LEBOWSKI also has a musical sequence that in and of itself is supremely visual and fun, but it’s completely unnecessary to the film. It’s great to look at, but feels like the Coens are just showing off.

I think the Coen Brothers are great, but if they want to join the ranks of the film gods, they should consider splitting their duties. How about writing for other, more script savvy directors like Sydney Pollack or even Quinten Tarantino (who would have been a very interesting choice to direct LEBOWSKI). And they should look to direct intelligent, fantasy-based scripts along the lines of 12 MONKEYS or DARK CITY. I bet they would enjoy some freedom from themselves.


Blogger Point Blank said...

I like how you're posting your contrarian (is that a word?) views. I agree with your thoughts on The Big Lebowski and on the Coen brothers in general. My favorite Coen movie is Blood Simple and that was a smaller piece before they had big budgets to be so "visual."
The latest head scratcher for me is Me and You and Everyone We Know. It received a lot of critical praise, but I was just supremely bored.

2:35 PM  

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