The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is a 2018 Western Netflix anthology that made it to the top 10 films of the National Board of Review. Directed and written by Joel and Ethan Coen, it is an anthology movie with six short films with appearances by Tyne Daly, Clancy Brown, Tom Waits, Tim Blake Nelson, Liam Neeson, James Franco, Brendan Gleeson, Zoe Kazan, Harry Melling, and Bill Heck.
None of the short films are connected at all, except for the setting of the Old West. “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” tells the story of a singing gunfighter named Scruggs (Tim Blake Nelson). “Near Algodones” is about a young gunfighter (James Franco) who gets sentenced to hanging after robbing a bank.”Meal Ticket” features a traveling pair of showmen (Liam Neeson, Harry Melling). “All Gold Canyon” shows a gold prospector (Tom Waits) looking for a gold pocket. In “The Gal Who Got Rattled”,” Alice Longabaugh (Zoe Kazan) is traveling to Oregon alone after her brother dies. Lastly, “The Mortal Remains” shows a group of eclectic travelers having a bizarre conversation during a wagon ride.
I am a huge fan of the Coen Brothers, but I could not make sense of this movie. Is it a comedy? Is it a tragedy? Is it a dark comedy? I understand that it is an anthology (of which I’m a fan of this style), but it should still keep some sort of cohesion and theme. Even within the vignettes, it seemed that they could not decide if the story was supposed to be funny or horrifying.
“Buster Scruggs” and “All Gold Canyon” are the two best features in the film. In the former, Nelson is brilliant as Scruggs, a conceited and selfish outlaw who wears a white suit. It has a very unique soundtrack, particularly “When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings.” As for the latter, it is an excellent story of hard work and defending the fruits of your labor. On another note, it was good to see James Franco back in action in “Near Algodones.” While I didn’t care for the story, it was good to see his acting skills.
The other stories did just not seem to fit. There was no rhyme or reason to them, other than to show the deadly reality of the Old West. Nothing wrong with that, but Liam Neeson’s talent was completely wasted on this film. He had a short roll with very little dialogue and it was very disappointing. However, the best line of dialogue in the movie was in the last story “The Mortal Remains” (noted below).
Bottom line, this movie disappointed me a great deal. I have come with high expectations for the Coen brothers, but this was somewhat of a letdown. It lacked any sense of cohesion and came off more like an incomplete puzzle than a movie.
FAVORITE QUOTE: People are so easily distracted, so I’m the distractor with a little story. People can’t get enough of them because, well, they connect the stories to themselves I suppose, and we all love hearing about ourselves. So long as the people in the stories are us, but not us.
PARENTAL CONCERNS: Foul language, Violence, Gore, Some disturbing images
Check out the trailer below:
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