The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)

ballad of buster scruggs poster 2018 movie
8.0 Overall Score
Story: 8/10
Acting : 9/10
Visuals: 9/10

Great opening, good variety, good cast, good looking

Unbalanced stories that sometimes need more punch

Movie Info

Movie Name:  The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Studio:  Annapurna Pictures

Genre(s):  Western/Comedy

Release Date(s):  August 31, 2018 (Venice Film Festival)/November 8, 2016 (US)/November 16, 2018 (Netflix)

MPAA Rating:  R

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Do you want more Tim Blake Nelson and Coen Brothers on Netflix?

In the West, everyone has a tale.  Buster Scruggs (Tim Blake Nelson) travels the land singing and shooting those to stand against him…but even the best can be bettered.  A robber (James Franco) tries to dodge the noose and finds himself trapped in a worse situation.  A travelling sideshow owner (Liam Neeson) has the ideal attraction in an armless and legless man named Harrison (Harry Melling), but Harrison’s act is getting old.  A prospector (Tom Waits) searches for the mother lode.  A young woman named Alice Longabaugh (Zoe Kazan) travels to Oregon and questions if she can find love when she meets the stage hand Billy (Bill Heck).  Five people travel in a coach (Tyne Daly, Brendan Gleeson, Jonjo O’Neill, Saul Rubinek, and Chelcie Ross) and tell stories of their lives and philosophies.

Written, produced, and directed by Jeol and Ethan Coen, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is a Western comedy anthology.  The movie features six segments “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs”, “Near Algodones”, “Meal Ticket”, “All Gold Canyon”, “The Girl Who Got Rattled”, and “The Mortal Remains”.  The film premiered at the Venice Film Festival to positive reviews and was released on Netflix on November 16, 2018 with a limited theatrical run.  The film was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Song (“When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings”), and Best Costume Design.

I love the Coen Brothers.  They don’t always work, but I feel that they try harder than most directors to give you something different or new. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs has both good and average parts (no bad parts) and continues to show the Coen Brothers ability to evolve and change with the time.

ballad of buster scruggs all gold canyon tom waits

The crusty old miner finally gets his own story…

The movie starts strong…really strong.  I think that the Buster Scruggs story is probably the best part of the movie simply because of its energy and vision.  While stories like Tom Waits’ prospector are really good, they don’t compare to the opening story because it hits the tones just right.  I also find the Oregon Trail story strong and I like aspects of the robber story.  Both the sideshow and the carriage story are a bit weaker.  Though the carriage story has merit and strong writing, it doesn’t have the energy I wanted to finish out the movie.

The Coen Brothers also always choose exceptional casts.  Tim Blake Nelson (literally) soars as Buster Scruggs and brings a wholesomeness to the killer.  Both Franco and Neeson are rather understated in their stories since they aren’t as developed.  Tom Waits is great and almost unrecognizable in his story but he also get to give the Western trope of a crusty old miner a background story.  I wish that the Zoe Kazan story had been longer to see where the characters came from and what happened next.  The cast of the last story is excellent and kind of wrap-up the film but as mentioned above, the story lacks the energy I want.

ballad of buster scruggs the gal who got rattled zoe kazan dog

It’s all fun and games on the Oregon Trail until you get dysentery…

The movie looks great.  It blends the surreal and natural beauty of the land.  In the cinematography, it covers a lot.  You have the dusty deserts to the mountains and meadows to the plains.  It can go from feeling like a fairy tale to a nightmare in minutes…and it still does it with humor.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is a mixed bag, but it is a mixed bag worth watching.  As with most anthologies, the movie has highs and lows, but it moves fast enough to keep you engaged if you don’t like the story being told at the time.  I like that the Coens continue to evolve and experiment but also maintain their style and voice.  Check out The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, and you will hopefully find something in it you like.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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