This ain’t no western you’ve ever seen before
Not everyone is a fan of westerns, but don’t let that stop you from clicking the “Play” button on the Netflix original The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. That would be a mistake, partner.
Crafted by the Coen Brothers, whose previous foray into the genre – True Grit – won a mountain of Oscars, Buster Scruggs is still unique. It’s an anthology of six stories that vary wildly in tone. They have nothing to do with each other, except that they are all set in the Wild West.
All singing, all dancing cowboys
The first story, where the film took its title, is a musical about a dandy, singing cowboy who finds himself in a draw. Don’t be fooled by the absurdity of the opening fable, the stories that follow can be dark, especially “Meal Ticket” with Liam Neeson. But there is some relief from the grim storytelling.
In anyone else’s hands, this movie might have been a mess. But not the Coens. If you’re aware of their body of work (and it’s hard not to be), you’ll know they can handle a wide range of moods and styles. Sure, some of their movies, like Raising Arizona and No Country For Old Men, may outshine Buster Scruggs, but this film is the final word on their well-deserved place in cinematic history.
One definite highlight is Tom Waits as a grizzled prospector chasing a vein of gold. But so is the ridiculous shootout during a bank robbery with James Franco, Buster Scrugg’s crooning, the performance artist without limbs, the quirky but sobering tale about a settler wagon train, even the final story, which is possibly supernatural.
There is not a bad yarn here, nor does any story overstay its welcome, which is rare for an anthology movie. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs will take you high and low, make you laugh and cry, and come out the other side feeling a bit better about the world.