Tag Archives: noir

The Big Lebowski

The Big Lebowski posterWhere does one start with the Coen Brothers take on neo-noir, The Big Lebowski?

Since its release it has often been hailed as a classic (though I’m sure it has its share of naysayers) and has become one of the most quotable films in recent memory. I’ve seen it a good number of times and sat down to rewatch it again recently on something of a whim.

This whim was spawned by a fact that struck me, part way through, as being a bit odd – that despite the fact the plot deals with kidnap, murder and conspiracy it does so in a way that feels cosy, friendly and warm in something of a generic about face.

The story is a rambling one, reminiscent of many classic noir stories, where a young lady is kidnapped, a ransom demanded and a pay off set up that goes wrong as new aspects come to light and the mystery deepens. Where the Coens throw in their twist though is that rather than having a detached, cool, calm and collected private detective in the lead they have… The Dude (Jeff Bridges).

The Dude (“His Dudeness, or uh, Duder, or El Duderino if you’re not into the whole brevity thing”) is an ageing hippy type who enjoys the simple things in life like bowling, White Russians and Credence Clearwater Revival and it is his presence as the often befuddled core of all the goings on that I think creates the surprisingly homely feel.

The Dude (Jeff Bridges) - The Big Lebowski

The Dude (Jeff Bridges)

Added to this is the fact that, regardless of your social position, The Dude is almost universally relatable.

He is a guy that just wants to get on with his life and is wondering why someone has soiled his rug, someone wants to use him to conceive a child and someone else has roped him into being a go between in a ransom case – while his best friend (John Goodman’s excellent crazed Jewish convert Vietnam vet, Walter) is threatening people with a gun over bowling scores and confusing the mystery plot even further.

What really makes this is a performance from Bridges that is so spot on its hard to separate him from the role as he casually meanders his way through the movie.

Even though it does reach more of a neat conclusion than one might expect The Big Lebowski retains the feel of a rambling, shaggy dog story, that has a ring of truth within a sense of near surrealism.

Jeff Bridges, Steve Buscemi and John Goodman - The Big Lebowski

The Dude (Bridges), Donnie (Buscemi) and Walter (Goodman)

This is aided by a couple of dream sequences that perfectly fit The Dude’s demeanour and work as almost stand alone moments, the most impressive of which is the second that ties the whole film together in a suggestive musical number to the song Just Dropped In by Kenny Rogers & The First Edition.

The setting of the film also adds to the sense of surreal-realism as this is North Hollywood in the early 1990s.

North Hollywood itself, the less glamorous side to LA, is a location that lends itself to the uniquely odd mix of the real world rubbing shoulders with Hollywood just over the hills and the famed pornography industry of the San Fernando Valley as well as the high end residential area of Beverly Hills and so, in many ways, is a reflection of The Dude and his situation.

While the Dude is certainly our hero the film is rounded off by a very strong cast of supporting characters.

Jeff Bridges and Julianne Moore

The Dude and Maude Lebowski (Julianne Moore) mid dream Sequence

From The Dude’s bowling buddies Walter and Donnie (Steve Buscemi), the titular Lebowski’s assistant, Brandt (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), the eccentric artist Maude Lebowski (Julianne Moore), ‘The Jesus’ (John Turturro) to the excellent Sam Elliott as The Stranger, our narrator, while also being present in the world of the film (possibly).

All of these help create the world of The Dude, a world he and we are sucked into and spat out from across the film and, as is a Coen Brothers trait, they are an excellent ensemble cast of regular players.

While this all sounds a little confusing the Coens wrangle it expertly into a movie that becomes at once as good as one would expect it to be and somehow even better, all while twisting cinematic convention from noir to period in a way unlike anything to come before or since.

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Sin City 2: A Dame To Kill For

Sin-City-A-Dame-to-Kill-For-teaser-posterThe best part of a decade ago Robert Rodriquez and Frank Miller joined forces to bring Miller’s comic-noir vision, Sin City, to life. They did so using, then groundbreaking, special effect techniques and a huge cast of A-listers which made for something fresh and exciting.

Nine years later they reunited to bring another set of Miller’s stories to the big screen with a similar set of special effects and a similar cast, but unfortunately something seems to be missing.

While Sin City is a noir fever dream of almost-superheroes and almost-supervillians set in the hyper-stylised Basin City, A Dame To Kill For feels, for the most part, like they’ve taken that dream and turned it into some hellish nightmare version of the same source.

While the violence and general dubious gender politics exist in both films there is much more in the second that feels genuinely nasty. While in the first, the evil Senator Roark (Powers Boothe) was a shadowy background figure, here he is the overarching villain for two of the three threads and is one of the most charismatic characters in the movie.

Powers Boothe as Senator Roark

Powers Boothe as Senator Roark

This sets the balance between the good guys and bad guys on the wrong side from the start and isn’t helped by the fact that the new good guys don’t really have the necessary motive they did in the first film to really make us root for them.

The titular story is the most coherent with Eva Green standing out as Ava Lord, chewing through the virtually scenery and clearly having a lot of fun hamming up her extreme femme fatale in fine style.

In contrast her beau, Dwight McCarthy (Josh Brolin), a chronologically earlier incarnation of the character played by Clive Owen in the first film, is unfortunately bland, much like McCarthy was compared to Marv (Mickey Rourke) and Hartigan (Bruce Willis) in the first movie and he isn’t enough of a hero to carry the plot.

Eva Green as Ava Lord

Eva Green as Ava Lord

That said, neither are Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s underdeveloped Johnny or Jessica Alba’s damaged Nancy.

Crucially, what seems to be missing is a sense of experimental innocence and a joie de vivre that made the first movie barrel along but now feels like Rodriquez going through the motions of this being the sort of thing he does, particularly following the hyper-silliness of the Machete movies. While he has become very slick at this, Rodriquez’s style has lost something that made the original, and much of his earlier work, much more enjoyable.

On top of this it seems Frank Miller is trying to rekindle what it was that made the original run of the comics such great stories. He too though seems to have lost this view of Sin City, making the new stories feel like pastiches of his past work that try too hard to be brutal noir and just end up a bit too bland and a bit too nasty.

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