13 December 2004 | track1646
That Rug Really Tied the Room Together
Acting is one of the most key elements to success or failure of a film. Some film types can survive without superb acting. These motion pictures can entertain the viewer with special effects or intense action scenes. A film based on heavy dialog and back-story can not survive with out excellent actors. One such movie that meets the dialog-based criterion is The Big Lebowski. The film follows Jeff 'The Dude' Lebowski (Jeff Bridges) and his two close friends through a not so normal chain of events. The story is augmented by the supporting characters Walter (John Goodman) and Donny (Steve Buscemi). Written by Joel and Ethan Coen, the creative forces behind Fargo, the intriguing story succeeds because of the actors' impeccable skill.
As with many other films by the Coen brothers The Big Lebowski is an odd array of out of the ordinary characters slapped right in the middle of an improbable situation. The Dude is an unlikely hero living in the city of Los Angeles who becomes embroiled in a botched kidnapping. This is not the average kidnapper comedy that has been seen a thousand times before. The Coen brothers take a fresh look at an old tired subject. The story they have created is intriguing and entertaining, but the true entertainment comes from the unique characters. Walter, played by John Goodman, is a Vietnam veteran who seems to have some parts of post traumatic stress syndrome. Donny, another one of The Dude's close friends, is a quiet unassuming character who often interjects into conversation, but no one pays close attention to what he says.
As well as these characters are written, they would not be as effective had they been played by other actors. This effectiveness of acting can be seen in the opening scene at the bowling alley where the supporting characters are first introduced. This scene is comprised of Donny, Walter, and The Dude sitting at their lane in the bowling alley discussing the attack on The Dude by some hired thugs (7min 25 sec). The Dude is approaching the situation in his usual lackadaisical way. Jeff Bridges conveys The Dude's overall demeanor in his laid back, sauntering, walk. Although being laid back, Bridges is direct in his speaking showing that The Dude is not the average confused old stoner. Bridges facial expressions during this scene show The Dude is distressed about the loss of his rug which 'tied the room together.'
Donny seems to be an outside observer in this scene and throughout much of the film. Buscemi conveys his character's attention during discussion by following the flow of the conversation with his head. He looks from The Dude to Walter and from Walter to The Dude depending on who is talking. He may seem to be paying attention, but his asking of simple questions dispels this assumption. Another technique Buscemi uses is while he is observing the conversation he furrows his brow as if in deep thought and contemplation. This look of concentration is juxtaposed with the look of confused happiness, an empty smile, Buscemi uses when Donny makes a point in the conversation. These techniques which are introduced by Bridges and Buscemi early in the film are used throughout the entire picture.
Although Bridges and Buscemi do an excellent job of introducing their characters traits to the viewer, Goodman superbly shows his character's inner traits. Throughout the conversation it is apparent due to dialog that Walter is becoming upset. Goodman conveys this anger with facial expressions and body movement. In the early part of the conversation Goodman puts on a stone face to show that Walter is firmly set in his position. The Dude begins to agitate Walter as the conversation continues. Goodman shows this agitation by furrowing his brow, leaning forward while talking, and turning progressively redder. As Goodman continues, his speaking becomes more staccato and flustered. When The Dude refers to one of the attackers as 'the china man,' Walter continues on his tirade momentarily then quietly addresses the non politically correct nature of The Dude's comment. Changing from this aggravated manner of speaking to a more politically correct and lower tone shows that Walter has some sudden mood swings and a short fuse, as he returns to his tirade quickly.
This scene exemplifies the acting skills of John Goodman, Jeff Bridges, and Steve Buscemi. The characters in this story have been given interesting and entertaining dialog by the writers, but it is up to the actors to make the characters exude a certain feeling or trait. In each of their roles the three main actors add a level of feeling to the characters that is lacking from many of the offerings of the dark comedy genre. Goodman's portrayal of Walter as the 'know it all' with a short fuse is downright hilarious. Jeff Bridges steps out of his usually serious persona to portray a character as laid back as they come, 'quite possibly the laziest in Los Angeles county.' Steve Buscemi is as entertaining as ever. His depiction of Donny, the character to rarely speak, adds depth to an otherwise bland side character. After viewing this film one can see why actors who can actually practice their craft are worth their weight in gold.