(Credit to Netflix)
An anthology film featuring stories with different subjects and tones, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is a thoroughly engaging and enjoyable film. There are a total of six short stories and each have standout moments that may catch you by surprise. As in most Coen brother films, the wit and humor found in the dialogue can create some unintentionally funny moments even when the situation becomes serious. It will remind you more of Fargo than No Country for Old Men.
Netflix has another winner on their hands.
From catchy musical numbers that feature some fun shootouts to a lone prospector digging for gold, each story could have been their own full length feature, but work well as their own compact short film. Each segment runs for about 20 to 25 minutes and are tightly written so that when they reach their individual conclusion, you’ll feel satisfied and possibly shocked as a result. The tonal shifts can be somewhat jarring and will lull you into a false sense of hope, but this is a testament to the strong writing and strong performances in the film.
The Wild West depicted in the Ballad of Buster Scruggs can be hopeful but also dreary. No one stays on top for too long and the audience is constantly reminded of this during the events that transpire in each film. I found every character to be incredibly charming and likeable even if I disagreed with their methods. You can’t go into a Coen brothers film expecting everyone to come out unscathed, it never tends to work out for everyone. In a way, it helps keep their films grounded even with all of the fantastical elements at play.
This film may not be for everyone, the tonal shifts can feel like it kills momentum if you don’t remind yourself that the films aren’t connected. Going from an intense shootout to a scene of isolation near a riverbed can be somewhat jarring. But, this is a perfect method for building tension. I was constantly expecting the worst due to the previous film and was generally surprised when nothing happened. Its brilliant and it happened every film.
One of the true standouts of this film is its musical score. It is available to purchase and I highly recommend it as it is fantastic. The first short has a number of musical performances that really set the bar for the entire film. Each piece of composition fits perfectly well with the subject matter and story and will keep you engaged when the moments of silence set in. Plus, the songs are catchy and you might catch yourself rewinding to sing along. Coen brother films tend to feature strong musical scores and this film is no different.
Western films don’t get any stranger than the Ballad of Buster Scruggs. Anthology films can be messy due to the different directions, but this film is an example of how to create distinct stories and place them perfectly alongside one another to make an engaging piece of cinema. Its charming, brutal, dreary, hopeful, and macabre, which sounds like a strange grouping but accurately represents this film. This is the Wild West after all and this film is definently wild.