The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs ★★★★

When the Coen brothers announced that they were doing a film consisting of six separate vignettes, it was mistakenly reported to be a television mini-series. The Coens denied this, however, and always intended this to be an anthology film and it’s all the better for it. With a recurring theme of death, the film focuses on different aspects of life in the old west after the Civil War as mortality faces each character throughout their journey.

1: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs sees Tim Blake Nelson’s sharp-shooting songster meet his match. 2: Near Algodones has James Franco’s banker robber unable to catch a break. 3: Meal Ticket looks at Liam Neeson’s dark traveller trying to make a buck. 4: All Gold Canyon focuses on Tom Waits’ gold prospector and the obsession it brings. 5: The Gal Who Got Rattled is about Zoe Kazan’s innocent traveller caught up in the dangers of the plains and 6: The Mortal Remains follows Brendan Gleeson and others on a sinister, existential carriage ride.

As is always the case with anthology films, though, there is a slight change of pace throughout the stories and when it gets to the last two segments, it loses a little stream. That said, all the stories possess a quality in their own right but the film starts so brightly and playfully that it finds it difficult to maintain that momentum. Perhaps the Coens would’ve been better served introducing the last two segments at an earlier time in the film as they are the most lengthy, dialogue driven pieces. It’s still a work of quality from the brothers though, and if I had to chose a favourite I’d side with Tom Waits’ All Gold Canyon but each of them are worth savouring and it feels like a treat to get six Coen bros stories in one.

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