The Ballad of Buster Scruggs – Movie Review


Rating: A


  • For an anthology film it can be hard to break through from a performance perspective. Yet we still are delivered some strong performances from the likes of Tim Blake Nelson, Zoe Kazan, and Tom Waits, all of which are focal characters in three of the films six segments. Nelson captures the quirky good-humored grin of the illustrious title character “Buster Scruggs”. While Kazan’s subtle mannered performance is one of layered naturalism, that only gets better in her awkward yet charming conversations with “Billy Knapp” (played by a great Bill Heck). Tom Waits on the other hand carries his segment completely on his own and delivers his signature grizzled voice to a self-talk loner prospector. And all together their performances help these western vignettes come together on there own right.
  • The direction from the Coen brothers is quite strong segment to segment. The Coen’s thrive on mixing quirky comedy with strong bleak violence throughout all the segments. They as well soak in the anticlimactic nature of every segment and flat out resist any notion of a “satisfying” resolution, which unequivocally plays to the overarching theme of the film which I’ll get into in a bit.
  • Quite possibly the true highlight of the film is the screenplay from the Coen’s. The Coen’s continue to treat whimsy and fatalism as sides of the same coin. And here they deliver a film of mortal slapsticks, where death is a hilarious punchline until it happens to you. They as well deliver a sort of small thematic motif of ironic death, that plays through all the segments with much success. The Coen’s flourish in genre here as for them it isn’t church or an archive, but more of a playroom. They pay homage to the classics (most notably “Once Upon a Time in the West” and “Stagecoach”), but create something wholly their own as well. But most important for any anthology to work it needs it’s thematic through line, which in all actuality is encompassed nearly entirely in the final segment “The Mortal Remains”. And in the end Joel and Ethan Coen assemble a film where life is full of people telling stories and jokes and engage in mocking debates, not to arrive at any solutions but just to pass the time between now and the grave.
  • The cinematography by Bruno Delbonnel is astounding. Delbonnel ravishes in the stark striking beauty of Great Plains deserts and popping green valleys. Delbonnel seamlessly has his thumb on the films color pulse, as he enraptures the film with color-grade galore that rises the films alluring beauty to unimaginable heights.


  • Like many anthologies some segments work better than others and here there is one chapter that just slightly lacks compared to the others.

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