Return of The Dude: Jeff Bridges
A month or two back, when rumours first suggested that the mighty Coen brothers had a remake of the late 60s western True Grit in their sights, the obvious question was this: who could possibly take on the role of the ornery one-eyed cowboy Rooster Cogburn, the part that won John Wayne his Oscar?
Clint Eastwood, perhaps – but hadn’t he retired from acting? Tommy Lee Jones seemed like a good bet – he was such a strong presence in No Country For Old Men. I must admit that the name Jeff Bridges didn’t occur to me – and I doubt the Duke would have been comfortable with the Dude.
We’ll have to wait and see, but it’s clear the Coens mean to make this thing their own, and from that point of view, who could be better than the star of their most cherished movie, the Big Lebowski himself?
One of the most consistently agreeable faces in American cinema for nearly 40 years now, Bridges made his acting debut as a wee bairn in his dad’s TV show Sea Hunt back in the 1950s. When he took up movies for real in the early 1970s he was following not just in Lloyd’s footsteps, but those of his big brother Beau.
A good looking west coast kid who came of age in the hippie era, Jeff always seemed comfortable in his own skin, and found that lead roles came quickly. He earned an Oscar nomination for his third movie, The Last Picture Show (1971), one of the classics of the period, and he followed it with something almost as good, John Huston’s memorably downbeat boxing drama Fat City (1972). (The same year’s quirky western Bad Company is pretty good too.)
Even so, he says that it was only when he appeared in the film of Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh (1973) with veterans Robert Ryan, Lee Marvin and Fredric March that he decided he might enjoy making a profession out of acting.
If that suggests things came too easily to this golden boy with his invisible technique, his best films have exploited the complacency that’s part of his laidback, “include me out” persona, his refusal to commit to anything other than himself (if you’ve seen the early ‘80s gem Cutter’s Way then you’ll know how his character, Bone, anticipates The Dude in many ways). The Fabulous Baker Boys is fascinating for the way he runs away from other people (yeah, even Michelle Pfeiffer in that slinky red dress).
He’s not always good. He was miscast in Heaven’s Gate as eastern European immigrant; awkward with the animatronic monkey in the ill-fated 70s version of King Kong, and too far ahead of the digital game in Tron (1982). More than most stars, I think, he needs other people – and bigger personalities – to make some noise, while he quietly goes about his business in the background.
Or maybe that’s no longer true – I suspect he grew in confidence after his Oscar-nominated, studied and touching performance as the alien in John Carpenter’s Starman – a kind of grownup ET (1984), followed by his uncharacteristically steely turn in Jagged Edge, his first big box office hit (1985) and proof that he didn’t have to be liked.
Playing villains is something he found he could have fun with, and he’s certainly been able to go back and forth between the good guys and the bad, to keep us guessing even as late as his bald Obadiah Stane in last year’s blockbuster Iron Man.
Bridges turns 60 next month and he’s upped the pace recently – he has no fewer than five films in the can, including next year’s Tron Legacy, with this week’s The Men Who Stare At Goats the first out of the gate. He’s very droll – and perfect casting – as the pony-tailed Viet vet who somehow convinces the top brass to form a New Age Earth battalion, to explore telepathy, passive force and altered states of consciousness. Of course it brings Lebowski back to mind – there’s no getting away from the Dude it seems. If Rooster Cogburn can eclipse both the Duke and the Dude in one go, that will take True Grit and then some…
Bridges Abides: The Top 10
Titles related to this article