The Big Lebowski is a comedy/thriller with a difference in that it is well-written, superbly acted and features some of the most bizarre characters ever to grace the screen. Jeff Bridges plays a slacker named Jeff Lebowski, more commonly known as "The Dude", who becomes embroiled in a kidnap scam because he shares the same name as the kidnap victim´s husband. This is the adventure of a true stoner cast as detective, a dreamlike tale with the distinctive Coen brothers' style and a psychedelic soundtrack.
The quiet lives of the Dude and his bowling buddies, played by John Goodman and Steve Buscemi, are shattered by nihilistic kidnappers and the Dude's wealthy namesake Jeff Lebowski. The millionaire Lebowski hires Bridges to handle the kidnappers, which is probably not a wise decision. The Dude is hopelessly lost in the sixties, an unemployed drifter with little in the way of motivation and not a sensible choice as bagman for a ransom drop.
The Dude bumbles his way through a number of life threatening situations and is manipulated and outmanoeuvred by a wide range of bizarre characters, mostly members of the millionaire Lebowski´s insane family. The action moves along at a satisfying pace with occasional narration from a mysterious cowboy although it must be said that the plot is not particularly coherent. The characters are great though and the direction is varied and inventive.
Jeff Bridges is excellent as the old stoner, a part well suited to his casual acting style and laidback drawl. However the supporting cast is also tremendous, John Goodman, who seems to be a Coen brothers favourite, plays Walter, a Vietnam veteran who forces his "help" on the Dude with hilarious results. The drop off scene at the bridge is hysterically funny as Goodman plays his part to perfection. The Coen brothers have given Goodman a variety of interesting parts and he has proven himself an adept character actor. Steve Buscemi is a quiet, nervy character who completes the bowling trio but he unfortunately doesn't have a large part. There are also appearances from another Coen brothers favourite, John Turturro as Jesus the bowler and from Julianne Moore as Maude Lebowski (the millionaire's daughter) who serves as a kind of love interest for the Dude.
Bridges stumbles through the unfolding events hoping to make some cash and is forced to meet a range of unusual characters along the way. He is drugged, robbed and threatened with castration and soon becomes comically exasperated. Indeed most of the comedy comes from his ineptitude and that of his friends. There are some strange musical dream sequences which add to the film and demonstrate how important the music chosen is in setting the mood, as in O Brother Where Art Thou the songs chosen seem to perfectly fit the characters and situations.
The characters are excellent and the Coen brothers are skilled in picking out life's eccentricities. The script also contains a lot of laughs and the Dude's philosophy is strangely endearing. This is a sprawling and imaginative comedy which didn't enjoy the success of Fargo but did spawn a cult following which is unlikely to dissipate. The Big Lebowski is an original and profane comedy romp which is the unmistakable work of the talented Coen Brothers.