Posted Nov 15 2018

The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs - This Movie Rocks In Some Places

Dir: The Coen Brothers

Starring Tim Blake Nelson, James Franco, Tom Waits, Liam Neeson, Henry Melling, Zoe Kazan

The Coen Brothers were making a TV series for Netflix. Then it became a movie. Then they said it was always meant to be a movie. But anyone that’s ever seen a Coens movie know they lie to their audience - all the time. So this western anthology arrives (six tales in total) that was more than likely once a TV series. So does it work now as a movie? Well, certain episodes do.

The brothers have long had a love of the western, and have imbued some of their finest - from Raising Arizona to No Country for Old Men, to (more obviously) True Grit – with the mythology of the genre. Here they start with a singing cowboy and a lush vision of Momument Valley that they didn’t even film in. Tim Blake Nelson is on strong form as the titular Buster Scruggs, as quick with a western song as he is with his gun. His opening story starts the movie on a high note, something that continues with James Franco’s hanged man in the second. At this point the Coens are as witty, smart and outright funny as they’ve ever been, also crafting a gorgeously sumptuous film, with beautiful backgrounds and staggering skies – indeed they often focus on the sky as much as they do the land, knowing how its vastness was always a crucial part of the western.

The film however starts to lose its way after these first two tales. What follows shifts tone and, whilst trying for something different, is more uneven. Tom Waits impresses as a grizzly old white-haired prospector, and it’s fair to say that by the concluding vignette, the boys are back on track, with something that feels as akin to an old Amicus horror portmanteau as much as it does a western.

So this omnibus of shaggy dog stories is an uneven ride at times, but has much to recommend it in many ways. Would have made a good TV series. And if it was ever such, you might well have skipped a couple of episodes.


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