Buster Scruggs

Though it’s presented in six different vignettes, “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” is sure-fire fun for any Western fans with a Netflix account.

One of Netflix’s latest original films is sure to draw Colt revolver return fire from some fans due to its unique format and quirky cowboy storytelling. True Western aficionados, however, will saddle up and ride along on this fresh take on the Old West from the Coen brothers. Either way, “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” offers majestic cinematography of American expansion westward perfectly complementing the Western genre with its use of the comedy, music and deadly violence found on the open range.

As soon as a horse named Dan begins to kick up trail dust for the wanted outlaw Buster Scruggs (Tim Blake Nelson), we admirably watch the parlance of this high stakes adventure take on a different look and feel than most dramas capturing the dangers of the 1850’s. Broken down into six short stories, the film touches upon all the iconic Wild West popular narratives: Gun fight showdowns, saloon skirmishes, early Gold Rush techniques, bank robberies, and stagecoach conversations amongst strangers.

Award-winning filmmakers Ethan and Joel Coen conjure up a half-dozen serious escapades, each chapter ending with deadly outcomes for someone. In all six cases, judgments are either handled down or the dire circumstances confronted, leaving little time for reflection before the next hazard appears on the long horizon. 

Viewers caught off guard in the beginning may mistake this movie for the Broadway production of “Oklahoma!” but rest assured, this isn’t a musical Western. A better comparison is to American novelist, Louis L’Amour, writer of Western short stories.

A superstar cast rides shotgun to Nelson’s Buster Scruggs character, underscoring the Coen’s collective influence in film for over a quarter of a century. This film’s spot-on script, visual appeal, and unorthodox spin all carried out by Hollywood heavy-hitters in saloon attire. James Franco, Brendan Gleeson, Liam Neeson, and Tyne Daly punctuate this sure-fire Western classic using their small dose appearances to maximum effect.

“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” won’t be liked by all. In fact, only rabid Western movie enthusiasts should partake in this Netflix experience for better poker odds than just two pairs. But with a willingness to explore the dangers posed by the American frontier using six vignettes, movie watchers will gain appreciation for the Coen’s eccentric storytelling and this wildly successful entertainment timestamp.         

Grade: B

“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” is rated R with a running time of 2 hours and 12 minutes. It’s available on Netflix.

Patrick King is a resident of Tucson and writer for the Reel Brief movie blog at reelbrief.com.  Email him at reelbriefmoviereviews@mail.com.

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