The Coen brothers unveiled their latest work The Ballad of Buster Scruggs at the New York Film Festival last week, and it’s yet another masterpiece from the peerless filmmakers. Perhaps even more so than their acclaimed True Grit (2010), which garnered ten Oscar nominations, Buster Scruggs betrays their extreme affection for—and deep knowledge of—the Western, cinema’s first and longest-lasting genre.
The Netflix-backed project was erroneously initially reported to be a TV series, but according to the brothers it was always planned as an anthology film comprised of six individual stories. Each one embodies and gently subverts a particular Western sub-genre, from the singing cowboy films typified by those starring Gene Autry, to the fatalistic grime of Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns, to a wagon train drama, with multiple stops in between, ending on a dark tale that wouldn’t be all that out of place as a Twilight Zone episode.
It’s funny, tragic and savagely ironic in the manner only the Coens seem to be able to pull off. The stories feature a host of amazing actors doing fantastic work, including, but not limited to: Liam Neeson, Bill Heck, Zoe Kazan, Tom Waits, James Franco, Stephen Root, Tyne Daly, Brendan Gleeson and the great Clancy Brown (albeit briefly), whose presence elevates anything he appears in. The only person missing was the late Walter Brennan, the Western genre’s all-time greatest old coot who I am confident is smiling down upon this film from wherever he may currently reside.