Jeff ‘The Dude’ Lebowski (Jeff Bridges), an LA bum who lives for bowling, knows it’s going to be a bad day when two hoods break in, demanding money owed by his wife (“Does this place look like I’m married? The toilet seat’s up, man!”), rough him up and piss on his rug (“That rug really tied the room together”).
He finds he’s been mixed up with Jeff “The Big Lebowski” Lebowski (David Huddleston) and goes to the millionaire’s house seeking compensation for his ruined rug. But instead, ‘The Dude’ learns that his namesake’s wife Bunny (Tara Reid) has been kidnapped and ends up being asked to be bagman for the ransom.
From then things go down hill, as he meets The Big Lebowski’s daughter from his first marriage, Maude (Julianne Moore), who paints using her nude body and shows him films featuring her mother that are definitely not home movies, gets involved with a nihilist techno-rock group involved in the kidnap as well trying to work out the double crossing going on on all sides. He’s helped in his pursuit of the leads by close friends Walter Sobchak (John Goodman), who lives in a present constructed around his experiences in Vietnam and Donny (Steve Buscemi) who live in a present constructed around mental vacuity. And there’s also the bowling league to worry about, where he’s due to play Jesus Quintana (John Turturro in a film-stealing cameo) who’s probably the craziest man in a world of crazies.
The Cohen Brothers next film after Fargo is distinctly less black in its humour (although there is a severed toe involved) but the overall theme is one of shambling comedy, emphasised by The Dude, who always starts the day with resolve which dissolves after a couple of White Russians. On release, some critics did find the structure confusing after the linear Fargo but The Big Lebowski ends equally satisfyingly and even the tumbleweed that starts the film has a mission in the end.
Jeff Bridges as The Dude
John Goodman as Walter Sobchak
Julianne Moore as Maude Lebowski
Steve Buscemi as Theodore Donald ‘Donny’ Kerabatsos
David Huddleston as The Big Lebowski
Philip Seymour Hoffman as Brandt
Tara Reid as Bunny Lebowski
Philip Moon as Woo, Treehorn Thug
Mark Pellegrino as Blond Treehorn Thug
Peter Stormare as Nihilist #1, Uli Kunkel / ‘Karl Hungus’
Flea as Nihilist #2, Kieffer
Torsten Voges as Nihilist #3, Franz
Jimmie Dale Gilmore as Smokey
Jack Kehler as Marty
John Turturro as Jesus Quintana
Director: Joel Cohen
Writers: Ethan and Joel Cohen
Country: USA, UK
Studio: Polygram – Working Title
Year of Release: 1998
Duration: 117 minutes