The Ballad of Buster Scruggs Reviews

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Nate Z.
Super Reviewer
½ December 16, 2018
Netflix might just be the best pasture yet for brothers Joel and Ethan Coen. The Oscar-winning filmmakers were reportedly creating a Western series for the online streaming giant but that has turned into an anthology film, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. The Coens' love of the beautiful, the bizarre, the bucolic and the brazen are on full display with their six-part anthology movie that serves as reminder of what wonderfully unique cinematic voices they are. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is uneven, as most anthology films tend to by design, but it reaches that vintage Coen sweet spot of absurdity and profundity.

The best segment is also the one that kicks things off, the titular adventures of Buster Scruggs, a singing Gene Autry-style cowboy who manages to get into all sorts of scrapes. The tonal balancing act on this one is pure Coen, at once inviting an audience to nostalgically recall the Westerns of old while kicking you in the teeth with dark, hilariously violent turns that veer into inspired slapstick. There is a delightful absurdity to the segment thanks to the cheerful sociopath nature of Buster Scruggs, the fastest gun in the West that's eager to show off at a moment's notice. He's a typical Coen creation, a wicked wordsmith finding himself into heaps of trouble, but through his quick wits and sudden bursts of violence, he's able to rouse an entire saloon full of witnesses to his murder into a swinging, carousing group following him in song. I laughed long and hard throughout much of this segment. I was hooked and wanted to see where it would go next and how depraved it might get. Tim Blake Nelson (O Bother Where Art Thou) is wonderful as Buster Scruggs and perfectly finds the exact wavelength needed for the Coen's brand of funny and peculiar. He's like a combo Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny breaking the fourth wall to let the audience in on his merry bravado. The segment ends in a fitting fashion, another song that manages to be hilarious and strangely poignant at the same time. The Coens allow the scene to linger into a full-on duet of metaphysical proportions. I could have watched an entire series following Buster Scruggs but it may have been wise to cut things short and not to overstay its novelty.

The other best segments take very different tonal destinations. "All Gold Canyon" is a slower and more leisurely segment, following Tom Waits as a prospector who systematically works the land in search of a hidden trove of gold he nicknames "Mr. Pocket." The step-by-step process has a lyrical nature to it, and it reminded me of the opening of There Will Be Blood where we follow Daniel Plainview's initial success at unearthing the beginning of his fortune. Waits is fantastic and truly deserving of Oscar consideration as the prospector. He's hardscrabble and resilient, and there's a late moment where he's narrating a near escape from death where he's tearfully thankful, possibly losing himself in the moment, and so grateful that it made me tear up myself. The segment ebbs and flows on the strength of the visual storytelling and Waits. It's a lovely short with a few hidden punches, which is also another fine way to describe the other best segment, "The Gal Who Got Rattled." It stars Zoe Kazan (The Big Sick) as a woman making her way to Oregon with a wagon train. She's heading west for a new life, one she was not prepared for and only doing so at the urging of her pushy brother who dies shortly into the journey. Now she's on her own and struggling to find her own place in the larger world. There's a very sweet and hopeful romance between her and Billy Knapp (Bill Heck), one of the wagon train leaders who is thinking of settling down. It's also a segment that slows down, accounting for the longest running time of the six. It goes to great care to establish the rhythms of life on the road, where many people walked the thousands of miles across the plains. The budding courtship is at a realistic simmer, something with more promise than heat. It's such an involving story that its downturn of an ending almost feels criminal, albeit even if the tragic setups were well placed. Both of these segments take a break from the signature irony of the Coens and sincerely round out their characters and personal journeys and the dangers that await them.

The remaining three segments aren't bad by any stretch (I'd rate each from fine to mostly good) but they don't get close to the entertainment and artistic majesty of the others. The second segment, "Near Algodones," has some fun moments as James Franco is an inept bank robber who seems to go from bad situation to new bad situation, getting out through miraculous means until his luck runs out. The interaction with a kooky Stephen Root is a highlight but the segment feels more like a series of ideas than any sort of story. Even for an anthology movie, the segment feels too episodic for its own good. The third segment, "Meal Ticket," is about a traveling sideshow in small dusty towns in the middle of winter. Liam Neeson plays the owner and the main act is a thespian (Henry Melling, best known as Dudley Dursely in the Harry Potter films) with no arms and no legs. The thespian character says nothing else but his prepared oratory. It makes him a bit harder to try and understand internally. I was also confused by their relationship. Are they father/son? Business partners? It's also the most repetitious short, by nature, with the monologues and stops bleeding into one another, giving the impression of the thankless and hard life of a performer trying to eek out a living. It's a bit too oblique. The final segment, "The Mortal Remains," is like an Agatha Christie chamber play. We listen to five characters engage in a philosophical and contentious debate inside a speeding stagecoach that will not slow down. It's an actors showcase with very specifically written characters, the Coens sharp ear for local color coming through. The conversation takes on a symbolism of passing over to judgment in the afterlife, or maybe it doesn't and I'm trying to read more into things. You may start to tune out the incessant chatter as I did. It's a perfunctory finish for the movie.

Being a Coen brothers' film, the technical merits are mesmerizing. The cinematography by Bruno Delbonnel (Amelie, Inside Llewyn Davis) is sumptuous and often stunning. The use of light and color is a gorgeous tapestry, and some of the visual arrangements could be copied into ready-made scenic postcards, in particular "Meal Ticket" and "All Gold Canyon." The isolation, hostility, warmth, majesty of the setting is expertly communicated to the viewer. The production design and costuming are consummate as well. The musical score by longtime collaborator Carter Burwell is classic in its use of melancholy strings and motifs. It's a glorious looking movie made with master craft care.

Before its release, the Coens had talked about how hard it was to make their kind of movies within the traditional studio system, even with their 30 years of hits and classics. Netflix is desperately hungry for prestige content, so it looks like a suitable match. I'd happily welcome more Coen brothers' movies like The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, a goofy Western that's equally heart wrenching as it is heart-warming, neither shying away from the cruelty and indifference of the harsh setting nor neglecting to take in its splendor. Just give them whatever money they need Netflix to keep these sort of movies a comin'.

Nate's Grade: B+
December 16, 2018
I liked all 5? stories in the movie, some are faster paced and others slower, I think it permitted the movie to breath. I actually felt like watching it a second time right after finishing it.. !
December 15, 2018
This was the most depressing movie that I have ever seen in my life. Insensitive, irreverent, and absolutely horrible. Do not watch it unless you think people who are physically unfit dying is hilarious. YOU ARE A SOCIOPATH IF YOU LIKE THIS MOVIE. F*** THE COEN BROTHERS.
December 15, 2018
In their last picture, Hail, Caesar!, the Coens made a film of sideshows and loose-ends that spun off from the central narrative. The job of Josh Brolin's character was to quiet these disturbances and keep the main story on track, both figuratively and literally. In The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, the Coens have dispensed with the central narrative altogether, allowing their vignettes of the old West to spool forth unencumbered by a unifying structure, save a picture book anthology that introduces each story with an illustrated plate. Mortality is the shared theme undergirding each story, for no tale is without its violent conclusion, and a progressive sobriety builds throughout the film. The first chapter pitches shoot ï¿ 1/2~em up violence alongside wisecracks, irreverent glee, and song and dance numbers. The musical carries on even after death. But, by the final installment, much of the humor has been vacated and all that remains is the tragedy and solemnity of mortal ends. Two bounty hunters talk of entertaining their victims with stories, while unnoticed the grim reaper sidles in to do his inevitable work. The Coens, these two great modern yarn-spinners, know exactly what they're doing and have been doing all this time.
½ December 15, 2018
I had mixed feelings about this. Beautifully acted and shot, with some great black humour here and there but, in the end, it is the dark, hopeless tragedy that truly prevails, in a land where no redemption nor salvation seems possible, and I guess that was not exactly what I was expecting.
½ December 14, 2018
A gorgeous, somewhat funny, sad, quirky venture.
December 14, 2018
Sooo Coen Brothers. Beautiful, lyrical, humorous, and - as is always the case with those brothers - surprising.
December 14, 2018
Pequeñas historias en el viejo oeste sobre la muerte.
½ December 14, 2018
Tales from the West. So this is an anthology that gives you six unconnected stories about life in the Old West, all of which have something to do with death. I kind of wish I knew that last part going in so as to have approached this with the right frame of mind. All I knew is that this was the new movie from the Coen Brothers that was flying under the radar. I didn't know that the tagline to this was, "Stories live forever. People don't." Not that I wasn't able to adjust and enjoy, mind you, but that may have prepared me for the downer points... of course, this is the Coen Brothers, so I already was well aware that they are not the kindest and most merciful to the characters that they've written. Now this is the Coens' longest movie to date, but it really doesn't feel like it. What this feels like is more like a short miniseries that you could binge watch in one sitting. Netflix is actually the perfect avenue for this because 1. I don't think that this would have gotten nearly enough traction to merit a theatrical run, and 2. It makes it so you can take breaks if you want to between stories, should you so desire. I personally took an intermission after the first three segments were done, and it was very easy to pick right back up about 30 minutes later. Each story has nothing to do with the last one, and Buster Scruggs is only in the first story. I don't think Buster perfectly sets up the rest of the movie; after the first segment, you're ready for the rest of the movie to be a cartoon, and while the second is still comical, it plays it far more serious. By the time you reach the third, it gets downright dark, so tonally, I think this anthology has some issues. I did like this far more often than not, but I am very admittedly a gigantic fan of the Coen Brothers. I think the third segment, Meal Ticket, ended up being my favorite, but every single story has its moments. It is most definitely not the Coens' strongest work, but most of these stories actually end up being memorable. The Coen rhythm to the dialogue is there, even though there aren't any particular exchanges that you end up taking away, which is something they normally have a knack for. I don't think that this is for casual moviegoers, it is made for the people out there that have seen the entire Coen library.
½ December 14, 2018
Story 1: Fun, bit kooky, interesting main character.
Story 2: Scales down the kooky a little but still fun
Story 3: Utter change of direction and is bleak, dull and depressing with poor pacing where scenes do not need to go on nearly as long as they did. Not even Liam Neeson could save it and I freaking adore that mans acting!
Story 4: Again horrible pacing and unbearably boring - Very pretty scenery though.
At this point I gave up and turned it off. Scenes which could have been a couple of seconds dragged out for minutes, The first 2 stories had at least interesting/charming characters you could sort of root for and want to follow the stories of but after that I really didnt care about the following ones and it was just watching a series of events happen
December 13, 2018
Maybe I went in with the wrong expectations, but a half dozen short stories with no connection between them left me wanting. None of them were that great either. The first (Buster Scruggs) was the best, which means you can just watch the 1st 10 minutes and be done.
December 13, 2018
Wow. The Coen Brothers really know how to make dark-humored western vignettes. 'The Ballad of Buster Scruggs' is a very unique collection of stories that will leave you chuckling one minute, and shocked the next. Great cinematography and acting, and great writing. The Coen Brothers have done it again!
December 12, 2018
I kind of wish the show, movie, whatever it is, was just the opening segment. Some of the other parts weren't as interesting. Worth checking out for the opening 20 minutes though.
December 11, 2018
Wow! Every story was amazing writing, acting, directing. Will watch this 100 times and never get tired of it!
December 11, 2018
enjoyed it all the way through. wasnt ever bored. i just have no idea why it was made to begin with. its a whats for dinner movie. some really nice moments and scenes. each scene was worth while just not the sum of its parts.
December 11, 2018
they need to make the first episode a full fledged movie by far the best episode out of all of them.
Super Reviewer
December 10, 2018
1. The Gal Who Got Rattled

2. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

3. All Gold Canyon

4. Meal Ticket

5. The Mortal Remains

6. Near Algodones
December 10, 2018
pentru originalitate. si povesti.
½ December 10, 2018
Coen Brothers are back in form
December 9, 2018
If you like predictable outcomes, the ugly side of human nature, to be hit over the head again and again with depressing, unhappy stories then this is the movie for you. It's strange, the cinematography was beautiful, the cast was high quality, the acting wonderful; so it's strange that even those good traits cannot make this movie worthwhile. After viewing the first two stories the viewer knows that nothing good will ever be coming so you know to expect the worst and that is what you get. It feels like the bros took Netflix's money and phoned this one in. I generally love Coen Bros movies, that's why I watched, I had high hopes which, unfortunately, were dashed by this depressing waste of time.
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