I’d like to chat, if I may, about Jeff Bridges. Now some might say he’s in the twilight of his career, but I think he’s just getting into his stride. Let me explain.
IMDb shows his first credited role took place on a TV show called Sea Hunt from 1958-60. From there, in 1972, he became one of the youngest ever actors to get nominated for an Oscar, aged 22 for The Last Picture Show. During the period between 1970 to the end of the 1990s, he received further nominations and critical acclaim for performances including: Starman, Against All Odds, and Fearless.
Then, at the end of the 90s, he gave us arguably his most iconic character, The Dude in The Big Lebowski. A character many consider to be a career high – or at least the most memorable.
In 2008 came Iron Man. A bit of an unexpected hit for the studio and the cast. Bridges, here, giving us the scheming Obadiah Stane, facing off against Downey Jr’s Tony Stark. A brilliantly realised character, Obadiah is the ultimate CEO-gone-bad and Bridges plays him perfectly. Never a moment when he overdoes it, letting Obadiah’s quiet menace come through, effectively hidden behind Bridges’ genial nature until the third act. The Dude has gone bad.
The tipping point
For me, this film was where Bridges’ career moved up a level. With Iron Man he had reached a point where he could play wonderfully complex, yet thoroughly engaging characters. Some villians, some good guys, all of them flawed in some way. Some may say they’re all variations of The Dude, but that’s lazy and inaccurate.
At this point Bridges’ rich vein of form began to gather pace. Beginning with a brilliant and underrated turn as Bill Django in The Men Who Stare at Goats in 2009. He then gave us – the same year – a fantastic performance as washed up, boozy singer Bad Blake in Crazy Heart.
His journey from bitterness and self-loathing through to redemption and inner peace is thoroughly believable and compelling. Indeed, the performance won him an Oscar, making him – quite fittingly – also one of the oldest actors to ever win the award, aged 60.
In 2010 this followed with another critically-acclaimed performance as Rooster Cogburn in the Coen brothers’ remake of True Grit. Another award-laden film. Following John Wayne’s iconic footsteps was no easy thing, but Bridges gave a strong performance, thoroughly inhabiting Rooster’s gruff nature.
Beneath his hardened exterior, though, Rooster showed compassion and sense of responsibility towards Mattie Ross (played with plucky determination by newcomer Hailee Steinfeld). Many of the scenes in the final act where he comes through for Mattie time and again are incredibly moving.
So, to sum up, even though The Dude is now in his mid 60s, I think he’s doing some of the best and most consistent work of his career. Let’s hope the roles keep coming!