Review: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (15)

Written by Film

The latest feature from the Coen brothers, the industries foremost sibling writing / directing partnership, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is a brilliantly crafted and humorous series of short tales set in the Old West. Its litany of stars shine brightly in what maybe Netflix’s most ‘respectable’ outing to date.

The ensemble cast included Tim Blake Nelson as the titular Buster Scruggs, Liam Neeson as an un-named Impresario, James Franco as a Cowboy and a welcome return to the big screen for Tom Waits as a grizzled prospector. The film is split into six twenty-ish minute stories all of which are only loosely connected. Despite this the film flows as a whole and doesn’t feel like a group of disparate tales crammed together for the sake of convenience. Somehow, the Coen brother have managed to create a series of shorts with no weak link that build on each other.

Nelson and Franco are the two stand out performers in this exceptional cast. The score provided by long-time collaborator Carter Burwell also deserves a special mention. It is both sweeping and majestic, but frames the quieter scenes perfectly. The musical numbers when they happen are brilliantly executed. Goofy yet somehow fitting. Goofy yet touching is an odd combination, but that sums up the film perfectly. It is smart enough to know how to make a point, but self-aware enough to know it needs to be coated in the absurd. This is the key to its success.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is for my money the best comedy-Western since the legendary Blazing Saddles.. In the end six stories doesn’t feel enough and hopeful the brothers will embrace their new platform fully and roll-out more bingable anthologies sometime soon. The most pleasing aspect of this film is that the brothers, even this far into their illustrious careers, are still willing to take risks and defy expectations in an industry that too often replies of repeating the tried and tested to turn a quick buck. Long may the Coen brother’s ingenuity continue.

Last modified: 21st February 2020

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