The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Length: 133 minutes / 2.21 hours
The Coen Brothers have a curiously innate ability to be able to create stories that can one moment be comedic and laugh-out-loud funny before taking a dark turn into tragic territory. While their latest work, the Netflix film, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018), looks like it would trend more toward comedy, it basically spends most of its time in the realm of violence and tragedy. Now don’t get me wrong: this doesn’t mean it’s a bad movie. In fact, once the first few “comedic” pieces conclude, the movie really gets into some fantastic stories.
Arranged as a series of six vignettes, the main star of The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is the setting. Filmed on location in a variety of western locales, the beauty of the scenery is on full display in each of the six stories (even if in lesser amounts in the last piece). The cinematography is superb, only barely outperformed by the acting. Whole segments could be performed without a single word spoken, thus emphasizing the vast and lonely space of the west. While some of these segments work better than others, they all bring a different facet of life in the wild frontier to the forefront of the audience’s mind.
For those looking for some classic Coen Brothers’ fare (a la Fargo (1996) or True Grit (2010)), The Ballad of Buster Scruggs should be right up their alley. This film almost seems to be a return to form for the Coen Brothers, especially after their somewhat muddled love letter to classic Hollywood, Hail, Caesar! (2016). While the anthology approach to this film was an interesting choice, I think it allowed this directing duo to really flex their range of storytelling without trying to stitch it all together in a single narrative (which is likely what made Hail, Caesar! not work as well as it could have).
A beautifully scenic and masterfully directed anthology of the old west, I give The Ballad of Buster Scruggs 4.5 stars out of 5.