By Dave B.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (Netflix) is a Western anthology written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. The stories range from following the nicest outlaw ever, through the tale of a gold miner who finds a big score, to love and loss on the Oregon Trail. The various tales are not connected through characters or plot, however they possess a thematic consistency regarding their outlook on the human condition that is both bleak and moving.
If I had to sum up The Ballad of Buster Scruggs in one word, that word would be “experimental”. It’s a wholly unique entry in the Western genre for a few reasons. Most noticeably, it’s a musical, or at least singing is an important element in most of the stories. This aspect of the anthology is an unqualified success. The songs within this movie greatly enhance the emotions that the plots are trying to convey and are beautiful, despite not being sung by actors with the greatest voices. Visually, the scenery is breathtaking, especially in “All Gold Canyon”. I could just stare and look at the vistas in that story for hours. It’s one of my three favorite stories in the film along with the eponymous “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” and “The Gal Who Got Rattled”. It doesn’t hurt that that “All Gold Canyon” is one of the few stories in the anthology that isn’t overwhelmingly tragic or morbid.
And that dour tone is my major complaint about The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. Yes, it’s beautiful and poignant and moving and often funny, but 133 minutes of death and tragedy is a bit much, even for the most robust viewers. This isn’t a movie that one watches to feel reaffirmed about life or one’s place in the universe. It’s firmly committed to showing the beauty in lives (and deaths) that are ultimately senseless. That isn’t necessarily a bad quality in a movie, but when it’s unrelenting and omnipresent through six stories…
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is undeniably beautiful and original. It’s fairly well acted and it will certainly hold viewers’ attention despite its long runtime. I recommend it without hesitation. But it’s also one of those movies that probably better appreciated when one is in the right mood for it. If you’re currently going through a down or morose time in your life, you may want to wait until you feel better before watching this film. It’s a downer. A well-done, thoughtful, absorbing downer, but a downer nonetheless.
I have no clue what I'm doing, but I'll keep doing whatever it is to the best of my ability.