I will probably be in the minority on this but, I thought the new Coen Brothers movie, THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS, was only okay. The Coen Brothers have never really truly made what you would call a bad film in my opinion. For me there is two sides to the Coen brother spectrum/coin for me. Really truly fantastic great Coen Brothers movies like Fargo or No Country For Old Men or Inside Llewyn Davis or Blood Simple or Miller’s Crossing or the redo of True Grit or Raising Arizona or Intolerable Cruelty…yes, yes, I’m getting to it in a dramatic fashion…The Big Lebowski. And then you have okay, mediocre Coen Brothers whose movies are still better than half the shit Hollywood still puts out nowadays but not good enough to watch again. Those films for me include: A Simple Man, O Brother Where Art Thou, The Ladykillers, Burn After Reading, Hail Caesar…and now this.
It’s hard to review the movie as a whole, since its really an anthology movie, with six different segments about stories in the whole West. So, without spoilers mind you, I’m going to quickly review all six, and review why this film showed signs of Coen brothers greatness, but was ultimately a good natured, good try, shrug from me.
1. The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs – the first segment is easily the best. A funny, yet dark Looney Tune homage. Campy and violent and crazy over the top, right down to characters dying and being shown going to heaven while playing the harp while having CGI wings taking them there. Tim Blake Nelson sings and is perfectly fantastic as Buster Scruggs. I wanted this segment to be the entire movie. Alas, for what it was, it was a good length, and I had a shit load of fun.
And then everything goes a little down hill in a roller coaster type dynamic, high and lows, but never getting near the highs of that first awesome drop.
2. Near Algodones – this second story had some good Coen brother moments, especially Stephen Root as a crazed bank manager/owner, and the moral of the tale was a little dark, sad, and funny, but this second segment was too short. I didn’t feel as though the message was earned in the end. I wish it had taken James Franco on a couple of more weird karma journeys before getting to the end. It just felt rushed.
3. Meal Ticket – I get the dark aspects of the story, but everything just didn’t work for me on this one. Honestly thought it was the worst segment of the 6, and it stars Liam Neeson for God’s sake. Again, I thought this segment was too short for the ending to be earned. I didn’t care for the no armed-no legged kid that was being dragged by Neeson from town to town, trying to get money from the town folk from the kid reciting famous literature.
4. All Gold Canyon – This was the second best segment. The cinematography, like in the first segment, was amazing. It told a perfectly short story about a gold digger. Wasn’t too short, didn’t overstay its welcome. Tom Waits was great in this.
5. The Gal Who Got Rattled – while the ending was great and nicely done, I didn’t care for what led up to it. I like Zoe Kazan as an actress, but her character didn’t make me care for her plight at all. And while Bill Heck did he best to show the light side of man in a somber tale about the consequences of your actions and not paying attention, nothing worked to make me feel for anyone, the only thing nice to look at again, was the cinematography
6. The Mortal Remains – Probably the third best segment, really great imagery, and allegory, and symbolism…I just wish the dialogue were better on this, and again, the segment should’ve been longer. I can’t really dish out any details for fear of spoiling reveals, but there needed to be more interesting dialogue if your segment is just five people talking in a stage coach the whole time.
Anyway, I really loved one segment, really liked one, really hated one, and thought two were meh. So I guess the laws of averages state that this film was only okay. If you want to watch a Coen brother near perfect Western, watch the remake of True Grit, it’s fantastic, or even watch No Country For Old Men, I consider that a western as well. This could’ve been so much better…perhaps they knew it wasn’t their best material and that is why its being released on Netflix? Who knows, I just expected more out of them and out of the segments. Each should’ve been at least pretty good, but its such an up and down and at points un engaging hill that I can only recommend it as a one time watch for Coen Brothers enthusiasts like me.