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Cinema: Short Takes: The Big Lebowski

2 minute read
Richard Schickel

There are, difficult as it may be to believe, two Jeff Lebowskis living in the Greater Los Angeles area. There’s the rich, shady one (David Huddleston) ensconced in a Pasadena mansion, who gives The Big Lebowski its title. His opposite number is better known as “Dude.” Played by Jeff Bridges, he’s a burned-out beach bum whose mental clock stopped sometime in the ’70s. But when some thugs, mistaking him for his namesake, invade his pad, beat him up and, worse, ruin the rug that ties the whole living room together, he seeks redress. Or at least some replacement carpetry.

Since the mental calendar of filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen is often turned back to the 1940s, Dude is a shambling version of Philip Marlowe, the incomprehensible plot and the all-too-comprehensible visual references homages to the film-noir tradition–as if we needed more. Happily, however, the Coens have established a tradition of their own: deeply weird characters (let John Goodman’s great portrait of one of those paranoid know-it-alls who actually know nothing stand for the mad multitude this movie contains) embedded in profoundly banal settings (much of the film is set in a bowling alley). So even when they don’t achieve the glorious farce of a Fargo, there is always something fascinating about following the Coens’ rapt gaze as they peer into the American nut bowl.

–By Richard Schickel

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