“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs”: The Coen Brothers Revisit and Enhance the Western

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (on Netflix) is a sextette of Coen brothers Western vignettes that is a great representation of both their weird and serious side. The near assimilation of other Western directors styles is fused into something that is truly uniquely Coen, profoundly Western and still encansuplated great film making.

Each tale can be appreciated separately and is briefly delineated below. Taken together, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is one of the better meditations on filmmaking, and Western lore and myth.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is a hilarious crooning cowboy parody that features Tim Blake Nelson singing his way through Western shoot outs so over the top, inventive, and just plain grotesquely weird, that they may never be rivaled.

Near Algodones features James Franco as a bank robber fit for a hanging that parodies and almost surpasses the weirder moments of both Sergio Leone and John Ford.

Meal Ticket has Liam Neeson and Harry Melling as a traveling freak show proprietor and his armless, legless wonder reciting Shelley, Shakespeare, the Bible and Lincoln to audiences of dwindling capacity in a meditation on the death of art to commerce that is a profoundly told blend of David Lynch grotesqueness and Alejandro Inarritu’s The Revenant that is so sad, elegiac and ultimately— the most heartbreakingly tragic, near dialogue free fifteen minutes of cinema this year.

All Gold Canyon is a Treasure of the Sierra Madre like tale with Jack London stylings of greed, the despoiling of nature and an escape from death that has Tom Waits as a prospector panning and seeking the mother lode while leaving burial mounds in a mountainous valley that is a National Geographic photographer’s dream.

The Gal Who Got Rattled stars Zoe Kazan and Bill Heck and the most adorable Jack Russell mix ever to adorn a Western screen in a wry and dry conestoga wagon train tale of a cholera widow, a noisy dog, a disgruntled and over paid wagon hand and lots of kind talking but conniving folks led by a kind and wise wagon master, in a real sounding and feeling account about how the West was truly settled, proposed, won and sometimes tragically lost.

The Mortal Remains is a Stagecoach bound tale of motley multi national travelers (Tyne Daly, Brendon Gleason,Sol Rubinek, Jonjo O’Neil, and Chelcie Ross), traveling darkly while bickering about life, love, poker, ferrets, with the occasional pause to sing sad ballads of remembrance and dismemberment, that becomes an allegory on life and death of both the American and Western experience.

All photos courtesy of Netflix.

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