The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Widescreen for Coens'


15 November 2018| No Comments on The Ballad of Buster Scruggs     by Sean Chavel



There is a highly worth watching new Coen Brothers’ western that hits alternate notes of comedy/drama/satire/tragedy that is simultaneously being released into theaters and onto Netflix streaming (the Coens’ always intended for it to be seen on the big screen first and foremost). It’s not going to endure as one of their classics you obsess with, but it is terrific here and there. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs has vistas so gloriously generous that you must see it on widescreen format, no matter your choice of how you will see it.

The Coens’ have done allegorical prologues before (the opening of “A Serious Man”) so perhaps it not a surprise they have chosen a genre, the western, to host their first anthology film. There are six vignettes, all varying, scattershot with some wondrous moments, with the title “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” serving as the first one, which is also the funniest. A big cast of reliable actors turn up, such as Tim Blake Nelson (as the blustery and poetic but unexpectedly violent Buster Scruggs), James Franco, Liam Neeson, Tom Waits, Zoe Kazan, Saul Rubinek, Brendan Gleeson, as well as some other actors who I am not as familiar with but whom are very good listed as Harry Melling, Bill Heck, Grainger Hines and Jonjo O’Neill.

Each subsequent segment tends to play darker notes, or wistful notes before being interrupted with violence. The Old West is a violent place, of course, with the chance of expiring prematurely. What the Coen Brothers are likely saying is that every person, each their own, lived for just a little piece of harmony before their terminal end. For instance, there is a bank robber who is caught. He acknowledges an uncommonly pretty girl before him before he is to be hanged. Having eyes for a pretty girl is perhaps the highlight of his life.

The Coens’ string together a number of intricate pieces with thought-provoking storytelling. But sometimes there are just certain moments that resonate strongly. Liam Neeson is remarkable in his drunkenness at a brothel in one scene, the way he wobbles between a prostitute and a no limbs man he is supposed to take care of, it’s a piteous moment on at least two levels. Neeson is playing the scene as a man who just likes to slosh around and reward himself for having done so much hard work. Reward himself first before all else, yet he believes he has done nothing but favors for the limbless man. “Meal Ticket” is the perfect title for this story.

Both scenic and dialogue-heavy, the longest segment “The Gal Who Got Rattled” features an Oregon Trail caravan, and you get captivated by the shy flirtations between Billy Knapp (Heck) and Alice Longabaugh (Kazan). The third character, Mr. Arthur (Hines) doesn’t have much to say at first but is thrust into a situation where he becomes heavily involved. It feels like Knapp’s story more than anyone else’s, and I wonder why the Coen’s don’t end on a shot showing a facial expression of Knapp.

The final segment “The Mortal Remains” is very dialogue-heavy, full of conundrums. I regret watching the film at first late at night because it was getting tiring (at 132 minutes, it is the longest Coen Brothers movie), I was sighing in anticipation, and itjust doesn’t have the compelling interest of the previous segment. I had to watch it again in the morning. Intellectual, for sure, and some fair food for thought in the material. I hope the man with the mustache is able to brush off the creep factor of his unwanted acquaintances and is able to get a good night’s sleep.

When it comes to the other five segments, only the Coens’ can make melancholy so beautiful.

132 Minutes. Rated R.


Film Cousins: “Little Big Man” (1970); “McCabe & Mrs. Miller” (1971); “True Grit” (2010); “The Homesman” (2014).

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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.


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