The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is an anthology film, comprised of six separate stories, each exploring a different aspect of life in the Old West. It opens with Buster Scruggs, a singing gunslinger, and ends with a stagecoach headed for the afterlife. Along the way, famous actors make cameos in amongst gunfights, traveling caravans heading west, and prospecting for gold.
The turning pages of a book introduce each story, and beyond common themes of greed and death that run throughout, you can judge each short film separately. The overall experience of this slightly over two-hour-long movie, as you might expect, is a mixed bag. I enjoyed the first two stories, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and Near Algodones for their dark humor, but found the third film, Meal Ticket, a little mean-spirited in the end.
The fourth story, All Gold Canyon, had some interesting things to say about the perception of wealth, and the pettiness of greedy men. The fifth film, The Gal Who Got Rattled, was my least favorite, due to its needlessly tragic conclusion and its meandering pace. The film concludes with The Mortal Remains, a well-written dialogue rich journey to the afterlife.
Being that this is a Coen Brothers movie, expect to be surprised, entertained, and confused in equal measure. The tone of the film reminded me of Raising Arizona the most. Performances from the cast are solid, and Bruno Delbonnel’s photography makes this film worth a watch on its own. I seriously wanted to find the valley in All Gold Canyon and move there!
Your enjoyment of the film will vary depending on how much you understand what the Coen Brothers are trying to achieve in each story. Some points are more ambiguous than others, but overall, I enjoyed what I saw.
Starring: Liam Neeson, James Franco, Zoe Kazan, Tom Waits, Tyne Daly
Directed by: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Screenplay by: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Rating: R Running Time: 2 hr 12 min.