Everyone knows that the Coen brothers are master storytellers, so it seems to be no surprise that their latest feature, ‘The Ballad of Buster Scruggs’ is an anthology film. It is not a collection of many genres (despite having elements of comedy, drama, and action), but a series of vignettes set in the old west. It is in line with ‘No Country For Old Men’, and their remake of ‘True Grit’ as a western, yet more fun and exciting. Its stories range from the ridiculous and absurd to dark, cautionary, and gritty; which is what the Coens have been about for their many years of film-making.
If you really think about it, ‘The Ballad of Buster Scruggs’ is more of a series of short films that seem to connect through a giant book (also titled ‘The Ballad of Buster Scruggs’) with six chapters featuring a slew of compelling characters. You have: the titular character (Tim Blake Nelson), a cowboy, singing and shooting his way through the west; getting into all sorts of trouble into the saloons he enters, a bank robber (James Franco), who finds himself in a sticky situation, an impresario (Liam Neeson), who uses his young legless, and armless artist (Harry Melling), who recites many different dramatic readings, for financial gain, an old prospector (Tom Waits), looking for gold, a young woman’s (Zoe Kazan) journey towards the Oregon Trail, and a stagecoach full of five passengers (Tyne Daly, Brendan Gleeson, Jonjo O’Neill, Saul Rubinek, and Chelcie Ross) with different backgrounds, and a story to tell.
If you do watch ‘The Ballad of Buster Scruggs’ expecting a story that connects to its main character, you might end up disappointed. It is a pure anthology film that focuses on the trials these characters face and the choices they make to get to where they end up; another Coen brothers staple. All of them are quite memorable and perfectly executed by the actors bringing them to life. The Dude would not be The Dude without Jeff Bridges, Marge Gunderson would not be Marge Gunderson without Frances McDormand, and Buster Scruggs would not be Buster Scruggs without Tim Blake Nelson. It is these characters that make the Coen brothers’ movies memorable, and I do not see myself forgetting this Western any time soon.