The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

By Joanna Langfield

This Western, told in six very different chapters, feels like a mirror reflecting the Coen Brothers’ filmography. Uncompromising, wildly funny, morally definitive and often deeply moving, not all of it works. But when it does, watch out. At its best, this one will take your breath away.

A glorious collection of actors appear in this loosely strung series of stories. We begin with Tim Blake Nelson, riffing on the old cowboy musicals many of us loved as kids. But this one, Coen-style, turns that old poke on its ear. There’s a dazzlingly brutal bit, almost wordless, with Liam Neeson, piercing in its unsentimentality. The more fleshed out The Gal Who Got Rattled brings us a winning Zoe Kazan and Bill Heck, but perhaps my favorite of the pieces is Tom Waits’ All Gold Canyon, so perfect it does, indeed, shine.

I don’t want to give too much away here, as it is such a treat to sit back and let this gorgeously mounted anthology play out. That being said, it will be interesting to see if the film, as a whole, plays differently in theaters than it does when it debuts on Netflix and can be watched episodically, if the viewer prefers. No matter that artistic argument, I, for one, am just glad that streaming services are producing work as experimental and exciting as this. Films that don’t fall into an easy commercial slot need a home, with the economics of show business being what they are at the moment. And if this is how some of them get produced, and become accessible to wider audiences, the adjusted film world can still thrive.