The Coen Brother’s latest project released on Netflix earlier this year as the film adaptation to their own collection of unreleased short stories, entitled “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.” The film is an anthology of six different stories, each exploring an aspect of the way of life of the wild west of old. The six stories run over the course of 2 hours and 13 minutes, with a lengthy cast starring the likes of James Franco, Liam Neeson, Brendan Gleeson, Zoe Kazan, and others.
I was not at all interested in this film before I saw it. I’m not the biggest Coen brothers fan in the world as it is, and I’m even less of a fan of westerns. This being as hard-core a western as it gets, I was not thrilled when my family decided to watch the Netflix film on holiday. I came out of the film thoroughly confused. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is an exceedingly odd film, comprising of six undeniably odd storylines with many irrevocably odd characters in the oddest circumstances I’ve ever seen. Each story, pretty much without exception, is a full blown desert burner, so anyone who, like me, is not necessarily a fan of the whole sand and dustballs aesthetic, I’d avoid this film at all costs.
It peaks early. As much as I don’t like the genre, the first story, starring the titular Buster Scruggs, is an undeniably thrilling and enjoyable segment. Scruggs is a country-music singing, gun-slinging, sharp-tongued son of a gun with more charisma than anyone for miles, and his Jack Sparrow meets Jamie Foxx in Django Unchained persona is too entertaining to look away from. Unfortunately, this segment lasts about twenty minutes at best, at the end of which shit gets a little crazy. I don’t want to say what exactly happens, it’s a little too priceless when it happens to take that image away from you, but suffice it to say that it’s definitely drug induced.
The other stories would take too long to explain individually. They’re all very stylistically made, which, at first, seems to be the only noteworthy thing about them. You’ll find your mind occupied by wondering why exactly you’re watching a guy dig holes for ten minutes straight for, or whether that could possibly be the guy who plays Dudley in Harry Potter during stretches of confusion and boredom; only to have that monotony broken by events that could only be described as tragic and gruesome. Death, injury, and discomfort are frequent companions while watching this film.
Nonetheless, the stories are decidedly not without point. To be honest, as strange and needlessly quirky as a lot of it tends to be, all of them end in a way that makes you think (with the exception of the last one which is just weird). The messages aren’t always fun, often depressing, but they are definitely provoking. Of what, it’s not always easy to say. This is the way an anthology is supposed to work, I suppose. Absent the time it takes to sell character and plot, the Coen’s have written a collection of stories that say more than they tell. What they say might not be easy on the ears, but to those with the interest, you come away from this film with plenty of food for thought on the human condition, even if you couldn’t relate to the stories themselves.
It’s an exceedingly odd film, no doubt about it. I went into it very apprehensive, and, frankly, was pleasantly surprised by the commentary, when I wasn’t straight up confused with what was happening. There are some absolutely priceless sentiments wrapped up inside the potentially overly stylised waffle. Enjoyable viewing kind of depends on whether you can eat the waffle to get to the gems. I’d like to end this with a quote, a rough one mind you, which closes the first story. As Buster’s consciousness leaves him, he speaks to the audience in his wonderful cowboy manner “I’ll see you all up in the paradise beyond the heavens. I’m sure it exists. If it don’t, what’re all the songs about?” Solid. Gold.
Aman’s Rating: 63/100 Aryamaan’s Rating: 68/100