Big Lebowski, The (1998): Coens Brothers’ Zany, Messy Comedy, Starring Jeff Bridges

Going back to their natural instincts, Joel and Ethan Coen abandoned the controlled discipline of “Fargo” with “The Big Lebowski,” a messy, zany comedy-adventure.

Grade: B+ (***1/2* ut of *****)

The Big Lebowski

Theatrical release poster

Jeff Bridges plays the title role, known as the unforgettable Jeff (The Dude) Lebowski, a slack-brained pothead, who gets sucked into a bizarre intrigue involving another man named Lebowski, a millionaire whose promiscuous young wife may have been kidnapped, even though he says that all he wants is for someone to pay for his stained rug.

Hired to deliver the ransom money, the Dude, an unrepentant Angelino stoner, suffers one disaster after another, the result of his ineptness as well as the arrogant intervention of his paranoid Jewish friend, Walter (John Goodman).

The Dude stumbles through numerous exploits and gets lost in a barrage of surreal episodes, with people and objects flying through the air.

Many great cameo appearances grace the movie, making it more enjoyable. John Goodman is excellent as the devoutly Jewish Vietnam vet with a salty vocabulary, John Turturro is hilarious as a gay Latino bowler named Jesus urging his ball with sexy thrusts of his pelvis, Julianne Moore is equally impressive as an avant-garde artist who paints in the nude.

Steve Buscemi, a regular of the Coens’ pictures, plays a pensive surfer, set out to solve a mystery that only seems to deepen, as more clues are uncovered. Cassavetes vet actor Ben Gazzara plays a ruthless porn kingpin. Also in the cast are Philip Seymour Hoffman, Tara Reid, and Sam Elliot.


Jeff Bridges as Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski
John Goodman as Walter Sobchak
Julianne Moore as Maude Lebowski
Steve Buscemi as Donny Kerabatsos
David Huddleston as Jeffrey “The Big” Lebowski
Philip Seymour Hoffman as Brandt
Tara Reid as Bunny Lebowski
John Turturro as Jesus Quintana
Sam Elliott as The Stranger
David Thewlis as Knox Harrington
Ben Gazzara as Jackie Treehorn
Peter Stormare, Torsten Voges, and Flea as Uli Kunkel/Karl Hungus, Franz, and Kieffer, the nihilists
Jon Polito as Da Fino
Philip Moon and Mark Pellegrino as Treehorn’s thugs
Jimmie Dale Gilmore as Smokey
Jack Kehler as Marty, The Dude’s landlord
Dom Irrera as Tony, the chauffeur
Harry Bugin as Arthur Digby Sellers
Jesse Flanagan as Larry Sellers
Leon Russom as the Malibu Police Chief
Warren Keith as Francis Donnelly, funeral director
Marshall Manesh as Doctor
Asia Carrera as Sherry, porn actress
Aimee Mann as Franz’s girlfriend
Richard Gant and Christian Clemenson as cops


Directed by Joel Coen
Written by Ethan Coen, Joel Coen

Produced by Ethan Coen
Cinematography Roger Deakins
Edited by Roderick Jaynes, Tricia Cooke

Music by Carter Burwell

Production company: Working Title Films

Distributed by Gramercy Pictures (US); PolyGram Filmed Entertainment (International)

Release dates: Jan 18, 1998 (Sundance); March 6, 1998 (U.S.)
Running time: 117 minutes
Budget $15 million
Box office $46.7 million

Cult Movie

Initially released in the U.S. on March 6, 1998, the big-budgeted (about $15 million) comedy has grossed only $18 million at the domestic box-office.

However, since its initial theatrical release, audience appreciation for “The Big Lebowski” subversive humor has snowballed, transforming the picture into a cult favorite and a cultural phenom, which goes beyond the realm of cinema.

The comedy’s fans have created numerous Web sites devoted to the film, and every year flocks of fans attend the “Lebowski Fests” held in cities across the U.S. to bowl, sip White Russians, and enjoy the movie–again.