The following is a guest review by El Paso Times contributor Gerard Ross.
By Gerard Ross / Special to the Times
I caught sight of the Dude and his perpetually unstable side-kick Walter tonight. They were waiting in line with a multitude of other law abiding citizens to see “The Big Lebowski” at the Plaza Theatre. They had their bowling bags with them; maybe they were going to swing by Fiesta Lanes after the show. Who knows? I guess the only thing I can say for sure is that’s just the kind of movie the comedy classic “The Big Lebowski” is – one that you really want to dress up for.
For those of you who managed to continually miss out on this Coen Brothers’ classic since 1998, Jeff bridges stars as Jeff “the Dude” Lebowski, the non-hero of this bizarre film noir. Within the first few minutes of the film the Dude is literally dragged into the middle of a complicated ransom scheme. Bunny (Tara Reid) has seemingly been kidnapped and her millionaire husband “The Big Lebowski” Jeffrey Lebowski receives a ransom note demanding a million dollars for her return. Naturally, the Dude, a man with no ambition, is the perfect candidate for ransom courier turned amateur sleuth since he just so happened to have previously had a run-in with the kidnappers. They ruined his rug, which, I hear, really tied his living room together. Things are pretty mellow until Walter Sobchak (John Goodman) appoints himself to be the Dude’s partner during the money drop-off. It goes horribly wrong and things just keep getting worse for the Dude. Throw in a few nihilists and a large amount of Walter’s metered insanity and you’ve got a movie hilarious enough to make the crowd at the Plaza Classic Film Festival downright rowdy.
You should have been there. It was exciting to be part of a crowd made up of die-hard “Big Lebowski” fans and people that were ferried in from the rained-out “Shine a Light” viewing from the Arts Festival Plaza. It was great to hear just about everyone applaud when our favorite characters came on screen or laugh at all the right jokes. It was strange, in a good way, to watch a film of the 90s in a theater of the 30s. I’d do it all again in a heartbeat.
Getting back to the film - Jeff Bridges is a dead lock for the Dude, his laid back acting and mannerisms fit the role perfectly. John Goodman and Steve Buscemi (as Donny, the Dude’s bowling teammate and timid man-child-surfer) don’t seem like they’d fit their roles, but they and the rest of the cast give great performances. That said I suppose the acting wouldn’t mean much if it didn’t have a strong story to go with it. It has a classic film noir theme and it follows the rules, but it turns them on their side and gets you laughing. By the end of the movie all the loose ends are resolved and the Dude has lost pretty much everything, as is required by laws of the genre, but it’s different because the audience already knows roughly what’s going to happen; they just want to see how crazy it will get. Except for Donny’s heart attack – never saw that one coming. Speaking of seeing things, the film is a very pretty film to watch. The camera work goes from glamorous to gritty, from mundane to marvelous all throughout the film. I can’t prove it, but I think it may be linked to the degree to which the Dude is inebriated during the filming sequence.
If I had to, I’d say that the reason “The Big Lebowski” made it into our classic film festival even though it’s less than 20 years old is because it’s a great combination of good acting, clever storytelling, and exciting cinematography. Oh, and it very successfully pokes fun at the film noir genre while still strangely adhering to its principles surprisingly well. Maybe it also strikes a chord with average folk, seeing a man like the Dude in the kind of time he was living in just trying to live life the way he wants.