There are times I find it simply amazing how I could be in the middle of a video game that has a specific setting, and then decide I want to watch something based on that setting. Red Dead Redemption 2 is no exception. While I may only be 35% done with the game, when I wasn’t playing it, I watched a good series on Netflix called Godless. Then, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (a new Coen Brothers film) popped up on my radar, and it’s a unique gem. I was sucked in by the initial story of the titular character; a character who made me think of what Roy Rogers would be like if he was a psychopath. The rest of the movie had 5 stories that were in some ways unconventional but a signature of their style of movies.
Not everyone may be a fan of the Coen brothers’ movies. Sure, some of their films have been pretty hit or miss (such as Hail, Caesar), but there is something to like for everyone in The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. Let’s examine a few.
Each story is interesting
First and foremost, this movie is told anthology style. I initially wondered if six stories told in a shade under 2.5 hours would be feasible to developing each character. Not only was each story pulled off, but once you get into the movie, you rarely ever look at your clock to see how much time is left. Sure, there will be lists ranking each of the stories from best to worst; but for their content, there was enough room for each to get told and done so without any feeling as if they were dragged out or hurried. There is also a lot of variety for each story from classic tales of bank robbery, to double crosses and even a ghost(?) story.
Even some of the least-known actors give compelling performances
If you go through the list of actors that appear in this movie, you will note that many have appeared in other Coen Brothers films through the years. As such, you will see actors here in surprising roles. For instance, Liam Neeson’s appearance as Impresario in The Meal Ticket is a different take than roles that we are used to seeing him in over the years. The big surprise, however, is that of Harry Melling (yes…Dudley from Harry Potter fame) in his role of the Artist opposite Neeson. His role is compelling yet tragically sad. It’s also one of the stories that left me with a deep impression after the movie was done.
Zoe Kazan as Alice in The Gal Who Rattled was another one that deserved praise. Her performance of a woman who has to make key decisions is worth paying attention to through the entire story. Her final decision is the one that hangs with you. But given her predicament, some of us watching will ask if we could do what she did. If you are wondering what she did, just watch and see…which brings us to
Like all Coen Brothers movies, you don’t always know what you are going to get
What’s great about all six of these stories is that you can’t be 100% sure where they may go and how they may end. That’s always the sticking point of their movies and the reason why there will be a debate on the ranking of each of these stories. As you watch, some of the endings will seem ‘justifiable’ while other endings will leave you a bit mystified. All are worth conversation at some point, especially if a little surprise comes in the course of a story being told. Again, each story may not be typical of what we see in a Wild West movie. Still, it’s the depth that the Brothers Coen go to explore each topic that may be surprising to some.
Even if you are not a fan of Westerns, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is worth a watch for the sheer variety of the stories and the performances. You will come for the over the top gunplay and stay for the subtle story twists. It’s a one of a kind movie that’s something only the Coen Brothers can pull off. If you have Netflix, it’s easy to find.