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The Ballad of Buster Scrugg's Film Review: Coen Brothers' Western Refinement What a Netflix Movie Can Be | hollywood

Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Directors – Joel & Ethan Coen
Throw – James Franco, Liam Neeson, Tim Blake Nelson, Zoe Kazan, Tom Waits
ratings – 4.5 / 5

In addition to Quentin Tarantino, no other filmmaker has done more for the conservation of the West than Coen Brothers. Others have tried – and some of them have even succeeded – but very few of them can drum up for someone like Coens.

Even their non-Western movies have parts of the West in them – movies like Blood Simple or Fargo or O Brother … Their love for the Old West, the unspoken simplicity of life and its uncomplicated morality, is palpable in all of its films , from No Country of Old Men – the best modern west all the time – to True Grit – one of their rare blockbusters.

Watch the Ballad of Buster Scruggs trailer here

Their recent, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, may be their attempt to articulate this penchant to a crowd that gradually loses interest in the genre. Originally intended as an anthology series on Netflix, Coens decided – very late in the day – to edit it in a movie. The only reason I could think of why they would do this is that they could avoid having a tv show in their filmography. As with Tarantino, their legacy is vital to them, and they must feel the need to maintain a synchronous level. The result is six short films – between 15 and 20 minutes – it feels like both an introduction and a love letter to the genre.

There are of course threads that weave in and out of the six episodes of The Ballad of Buster Scruggs; characters can not return but themes make it safe. Everything but a story – the last – ends in violent death. Each story feels unique, but cut from the same fabric. These are six stories from the US border, six numbers of violence and vengeance, irony and existence, survival and betrayal.

Several characters in these stories are shot in the back – by man, by nature, and in the case of a poor soul, literally. These are stories of gold graves and impresarios and trailblazers – before these conditions began to be abused to accommodate the ego of unwanted men.

Tim Blake Nelson is Buster Scruggs in The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, a movie by Joel and Ethan Coen.

Ballad by Buster Scruggs begins with a book – one of the decadent old, the kind that Larry McMurty writes; lavishly illustrated and romantic rustic. One hand is approaching. One page is reversed. And we are invited to spend time in Coens World, a world where a buffoonish cowboy can sprout angel wings and fly into the sky, and this can be followed almost immediately by the sight of a quadriplegic reciting Ozymandias.

The title Buster Scruggs appears in just one of the six chapters – the first – and has nothing to do with any of the other segments. In fact, each of the six chapters is an ode to different types of Westerners – the tone changes from high farce to existential satire, from dramatic thriller to dark comedy.

Tom is waiting for "Prospector" in The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, a movie by Joel and Ethan Coen.

And as the lens through which they see these different chapters, their filmmaking changes too. Some stories are frequent with their brand's poetic dialogue, and others are almost silent. My favorite film photographer in the world, Bruno Delbonnel, fills in for his usual partner, the great Roger Deakins, seems to have been left for their own devices. The result is a work of so beautiful beauty that flows with such wonderfully stylized outlook and similar composite close-ups that you can not help pause the movie every two minutes just to admire the beauty of everything. And my favorite composer, Carter Burwell, writes music that can be grand for a moment, and cheeky next.

Liam Neeson is Impresario in The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, a movie by Joel and Ethan Coen.

It's a great example of how mastery Coens can change the mood of their piece – we can go from garish silliness to morbid horror in a few minutes, and often in the same segment. This is particularly evident in the third chapter, with the lead role of Liam Neeson and Harry Melling (Harry Potter Dudley), as a traveling act whose happiness turns when they venture into remote mountain areas. With a staggering economy and a businessman's mind, Neeson's character makes a chilling decision at the end that encapsulates the brutal hilarity of the film and acts as a metaphor for the dying genre itself. Shining new distractions will always come along; The old one must always make room for the new one.

Coens makes impeccable use of the same dramatic irony in Chapter Five, with Zoe Kazan as The Girl Who Got Rattled – a title that seems almost cruel, prepared with the knowledge of what's going on in history. Rarely succeeds in turning the tables into what the fate has in place for them. In fact, it's only once, in chapter four.

Zoe Kazan as "Alice Longabaugh" in The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, a movie by Joel and Ethan Coen.

However, the final segment can either be seen as an abstract summary of all that has come before, or an encore. It's as if a serious man opens the scene – the one about dying.

It is obvious that this kind of creative freedom is rare to find today. We often talk about how Netflix has redefined the romantic comedy, how it has become the best place for true crime, but we never mention the public service they have done by producing Gudless, and now The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. It makes sense that Coens has redefined the Netflix movie itself.

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The author tweets @RohanNaahar

First Posted: Nov 18, 2018 12:09 AM

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