The Ballad of Buster Scruggs – Movie Review

Part homage and part satire of classic Western movies, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is a film consisting of six vignettes which all follow different aspects of Wild West culture. Abound with dark humor, the movie is somewhat  inconsistent in tone and style, but always entertaining, providing witty dialogue and top of the line cinematography along the way.Mammoth Lakes, similar imagery to the fourth storyline.

Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, the six storylines are about a facetious gunslinger (Tim Blake Nelson) at the top of the food chain, a failed bank robber (James Franco) who has terrible luck, a traveling showman (Liam Neeson) exploiting the talents of a quadriplegic man, a grizzled and persistent gold miner, a simple and obedient woman who’s brother dies on a caravan to Oregon, and three strangers on a stagecoach which turns out not to be as it seems. Unlike most films featuring separate vignettes to tell its story, the ones in Buster Scruggs are not connected in any way. Several of the storylines have entirely different tones, where the first short containing slapstick humor and fourth wall breaks, and the third short being morbidly serious and gloomy. At times it’s difficult for the audience to transition in between storylines, but each one is so engaging that it hardly matters.

Dodge City, similar to towns that were shown in the movie.

A major highlight of the film was in the fourth story featuring Tom Waits as a grizzled and worn out man in search of gold. The story includes many incredible shots displaying vast green plains and wildlife. It’s inspiring to see the man’s hard work and close relationship with nature, and how his ambition pays off in the end, albeit an unfortunate run- in with an outlaw. It ends bearing the message that commitment pays off even if others try to reap the rewards of one’s hard work. This vignette was one of my favorites, tied with the opening about Buster Scruggs. Even though both of these stories have vastly different tones, they still work incredibly well on their own. Another factor in the film is how it’s apparent that each storyline could be fleshed out into a feature length film because of how rich and detailed the characters and settings are. 

Phoenix, Arizona, another instance of similar imagery to the Buster Scruggs and Bank Robber storyline.

Overall, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is an outstanding new installment in Western movies, adding fresh and creative elements to the genre. The Coen brothers filmmaking style really shines in this film, allowing them to truly express their talent to a riveting extent. The film displays  a wide array of feelings from humorous, surreal, tranquil, and brutal, which goes to show how expansive this film’s universe really is.

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