A collection of six stories all set against the
backdrop of the post-Civil War American West.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
Written and Directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Starring Tim Blake Nelson, Clancy Brown, James Franco,
Stephen Root, Liam Neeson, Harry Melling, Tom Waits, Bill Heck,
Zoe Kazan, Grainger Hines, Jonjo O'Neill, Brendan Gleeson,
Saul Rubinek, Tyne Daly, Chelcie Ross
Based on stories by Jack London and Stewart Edward White
Oscar Nominations - Best Adapted Screenplay,
Best Costume Design, Best Original Song
(When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings)
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs was a risky endeavor that could've only been accomplished by filmmakers as talented as the Coen Brothers. It's an anthology film that feels like a complete movie, something that I haven't experienced since King and Romero's Creepshow. It sports a killer cast of character actors and Coen favorites like Tim Blake Nelson and Stephen Root. These six stories, "The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, "Near Algodones," "Meal Ticket," "All Gold Canyon," "The Gal Who Got Rattled," and "The Mortal Remains" all display a different aspect of the dangers of life in the American West with a dramatic flair in the Coens' second western.
Of the six, which all had their moments, I'd have to say the standouts were the first one, which introduced us to notorious gunslinger Buster Scruggs (Nelson) and his love of gunfighting and singing. It was a bizarre but fun way to introduce the film, and right off the bat it was clear that this was unlike anything the Coens had ever done before. "Near Algodones" was another gem, with James Franco playing a bank robber who gets into a situation with a crazy teller. "All Gold Canyon" showed the life of a prospector hunting for gold, which featured Tom Waits as the determined prospector. I enjoyed this one because it was so simple. The strangest was "Meal Ticket," which was a sudden venture into drama after a lot of comedy. In it, Liam Neeson and an unrecognizable Harry Melling set up a show, with the latter delivering famous speeches with no limbs. It was a very dark story that shifted the tone, but it wasn't bad by any means.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is pure Coen Brothers, from the dialogue-heavy script to the unique characters. There's never a dull moment, and fans of O Brother, Where Art Thou? especially will enjoy this foray into anthology films. Considering their last film, Hail, Caesar, left me disappointed, I'm glad that their latest is another memorable film destined to be a cult classic.