Title – The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
Director – The Coen Brothers (Fargo)
Cast – Tim Blake Nelson, James Franco, Liam Neeson, Tom Waits, Zoe Kazan, Bill Heck, Brendan Gleeson
Plot – Follows six separate stories set in the American Wild West.
“There’s just gotta be a place up ahead, where men ain’t low down and pokers played fair”
Review by Eddie on 20/11/2018
Excitement was ripe when the world first found out about The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, as it appeared as though critical darlings the Coen Brothers were entertaining into the TV game with a six-part Netflix mini-series set in the Wild West.
While it never was the case that the Coen’s were aiming at a TV event, it didn’t dull the excitement as a return to the west by the Coen’s is an appealing thing indeed considering the success they’ve had in the space with the likes of No Country for Old Men and True Grit.
Launching on Netflix last week, here’s a rundown of how the Coen Brother’s anthology event fairs over its six chapters.
1. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
The most comical and violent of all the chapters, Ballad focuses its attention on Tim Blake Nelson’s singing/guitar playing gun of the west venturing into a new town facing off against a collection of opponents.
It’s a well-filmed segment and Nelson is always a joy on screen but this feels like a rather pointless and not overly funny experiment that starts things off rather rocky.
2 poker games out of 5
2. Near Algodones
It’s a shame this James Franco bank robber segment fell straight after the first episode, as when watched back to back its almost enough to make you think the Coen’s have lost the plot with this venture.
While featuring a scene stealing Stephen Root as a hyperactive but well prepared bank attendant, this is another violent/comical take on the wilds of the west but it feels slight and rather pointless, ending on a particularly dull note.
2 blubbering criminals out of 5
3. Meal Ticket
If you thought the Coen’s had lost any of their weirdness or odd flavourings then Meal Ticket should be a good reminder that’s not the case.
Featuring Liam Neeson as a traveling showman that’s main attraction is an orating man with no legs or arms, Meal Ticket is a sombre, macabre and depressive little tale that finishes with one of the Coen’s bleakest endings, this isn’t ground-breaking stuff but it’s a big step up from the first two chapters.
3 ½ chickens out of 5
4. All Gold Canyon
The most visually captivating story of the bunch, Canyon features an on song Tom Waits as a singing elderly prospector who finds his own little slice of paradise that may just provide him with the find of a lifetime.
A quiet and enjoyable little journey, this is one of the most accessible and easy to watch segments of the film.
3 ½ butterfly’s out of 5
5. The Gal Who Got Rattled
The longest and most fleshed out of all the chapters, The Gal Who Got Rattled would’ve made for a great solo film in its own right.
Combining all the best elements of a Coen Brother’s film, the tale that centres on Zoe Kazan’s quietly spoken single lady Alice Longabaugh on a wagon trail through the dangerous wilds of the frontier is a moving and confronting one.
Beautifully filmed and well played by its performers that includes Bill Heck as kindly wagon trail hand Billy Knapp, this is a highlight of the film featuring a memorable and moving finale.
4 gopher holes out of 5
6. The Mortal Remains
A more supernatural take on death in the Wild West, this stage coach set chapter which features everyone’s favourite Irishman Brendan Gleeson is a talk heavy but creative little exercise.
While not ending things off with a bang, the quiet contemplations make for a fitting enough end coda.
3 determined stage coach drivers out of 5
Final Say –
While eminently watchable, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs feels like a rather scattered Coen Brother’s exercise, that whilst typically well-filmed, written and acted, feels like a middle of the road experience.
Filled with what seems like too many left-over ideas that don’t feel worthwhile, you can’t help but feel this is yet another Netflix original that’s missed the mark.
3 guitar playing outlaws out of 5