This may be one of the most enjoyable, yet darkest movies I’ve seen this year.
Starring Tim Blake Nelson, James Franco, Liam Neeson, Tom Waits, Zoe Kazan and Brendan Gleeson, ‘The Ballad of Buster Scruggs’ is the latest Coen Brothers and Netflix anthology movie.
Made up of six different short films, ‘The Ballad of Buster Scruggs’ is set in a post-civil war era of the old west and follows six different sets of people who deal with a different aspect of the western life.
Before I start I must say that I have adored the Coen Brothers for a long time and when I heard they were making another Western, I was very excited. This was one of my most anticipated movies of the year and I could hardly hold my excitement for it. After watching it I can safely say that ‘The Ballad of Buster Scruggs’ is one of the best movies of 2018.
Even though this is an anthology movie, my review will be based on the complete package. I won’t delve deep into each chapter as that will touch on spoiler territory. See, I don’t like to spoil stuff.
First of all, I have to talk about the writing and direction from Joel and Ethan Coen, which is as amazing as ever. Each chapter is written and directed with that typical Coen charm and dark wit they’ve always been known for. The titular chapter itself may just be the most enjoyable piece of cinema I’ve seen this year! The Coen Brothers are known for their quirky dark charm and this is one of the best examples showcasing that trait.
The writing itself is terrific. As the movie progressed and another chapter would come and go, I realised just how talented the Coen Brothers are. Each of the chapters are very different. None of them are similar (well, similar to a point), and this really made me appreciate their writing. If you look at the first chapter, ‘The Ballad of Buster Scruggs’, it’s a dialogue-heavy chapter that contains some very entertaining original songs and quirky comedy. Then there’s the fourth chapter, ‘All Gold Country’ which hardly includes any dialogue as it focuses more on visual storytelling. Even without dialogue, it’s the chapter I became the most emotionally connected to, which is all thanks to Joel and Ethan Coen’s magnificent writing and direction. I think this may just be the best original screenplay of the year!
Another positive I have is the gorgeous cinematography from Bruno Delbonnel, who worked with the Coen Brothers on ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’. Debonnel was the perfect cinematographer for the movie as his eye for scenery is incredible. The panoramic shots, in particular, are some of the best this year (the main street from ‘The Ballad of Buster Scruggs’ and the entirety of ‘All Gold Country’ are standouts). The combination of Delbonnel’s cinematography with the Coen Brother’s direction is a match made in heaven.
I must also talk about the original score composed by Carter Burwell, which is simply incredible. Made up of beautiful, western style instrumentals and original songs, the score will stay with you long after. ‘When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings’ still remains my favourite track from the movie and I feel like it needs to be given at least a nomination for Best Orignal Song. If you’re like me then you’re going to have it stuck in your head for weeks.
Moving on from the technical side, the performances are great across the board. Firstly there’s Tim Blake Nelson who steals the show as Buster Scruggs. Nelson is a Coen Brothers regular and his performance here might just be my favourite of his career. His charm and wit is comedy gold, plus his singing voice is also great. Liam Neeson really surprised me with his nuanced performance in the third chapter ‘Meal Ticket’. His performance as an alcoholic man whose true colours start to show is one of his best yet.
Zoe Kazan was also amazing as Alice in the fifth chapter ‘The Gal Who Got Rattled’. I remember loving her performance in last year’s ‘The Big Sick’, and here she proves that she’s an amazing actress in a calm, yet delightful role. Her amazing chemistry with Bill Heck also elevates her performance.
James Franco is great in the comedic second chapter ‘Near Algodones’. His performance is one of the most enjoyable in the movie and he does a great job with the material. Brendan Gleeson and Jonjo O’Neill are great in the final chapter ‘The Mortal Remains’. Even though it is the weakest chapter, their performances keep you captivated which is a huge positive to the both of them. Finally, there is Tom Waits who is incredible in the fourth chapter ‘All Gold Country’. As mentioned before, he doesn’t have much dialogue, but it’s his physical performance that makes him another standout.
The only negative I had with ‘The Ballad of Buster Scruggs’ is the sixth and final chapter ‘The Mortal Remains’. It’s a chapter that has a great premise, but its execution could’ve been better. Although I do find parts of it great (the performances and dialogue are both fantastic), the chapter as a whole is weak. It’s even more disappointing considering it’s the final chapter of the movie. As I said, it’s not bad, but it’s easily the weakest out of all the other chapters. It just could’ve been more interesting, shorter and more emotionally captivating like the other chapters, but instead, we just get a very predictable story that could’ve been executed better. I want to love it but at this very moment, I find it pretty ordinary.
Overall, ‘The Ballad of Buster Scruggs’ is one of the best movies of 2018 and one of the best Netflix movies you’ll find. Packed to the brim with the dark wit and charm you normally find in a Coen Brothers movie, this is one of the most entertaining, yet darkest westerns of all time. Although the last chapter does leave a slightly sour note in your mouth, the brilliant performances, excellent writing, gorgeous cinematography and beautiful score results in one of the Coen’s best movies yet! Also, can we please get a Buster Scruggs movie or TV Show? He’s one of the best and most enjoyable characters I’ve ever seen!