‘The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs’ Is The Coen Brothers At The Top Of Their Game [Opinion]


Some were taken aback when it was revealed that the new Coen brothers movie would be a Netflix exclusive. Joel and Ethan Coen are known for being multi-Oscar-winning directors whose movies generally play in theaters across the country.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs did receive a limited theatrical release in 2018, but officially debuted on Netflix on November 16, 2018. With whispers of director David Lynch recently being spotted at Netflix headquarters, rumors are abounding that top-tier filmmakers have their eyes set on streaming platforms these days, rather than considering wide-release multiplex theatrical runs as the be-all-end-all of a successful film.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is a western starring, among others, Liam Neeson, Tom Waits, and James Franco. It’s an anthology western which tells six separate stories, each with a different tone and premise, and each with a rather grim conclusion.

As a whole, the movie is a fun ride through the wild west, for those who prefer their westerns a bit more on the macabre side of things. It’s definitely more The Dollars Trilogy than the “rootin’ tootin'” John Wayne brand of western, at least tonally.

However, that doesn’t mean the movie comes without its share of camp. The opening story and titular “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” tells the story of a pleasant, singing cowboy, who just so happens to have a bit of a sadistic psychopathic side. Gory and ruthless as this segment is, there are plenty of laughs to be had. The Coens’ signature dry humor is hard at work here and serves the movie well.

With “Meal Ticket,” the Coen brothers take the movie to darker corners of the west. A gruff man portrayed by Liam Neeson ekes his way through life as the manager of a performing quadriplegic. When Neeson’s character tires of his performer’s inability to draw a crowd, the enticement of replacing him with a better act is a no-brainer. This is definitely the film’s darkest moment.

“All Gold Canyon” is a simple enough story with a twist ending, followed by another twist ending that may not be the Coen’s best segment in this movie, but if nothing else it cements Tom Waits as the national treasure we all know him to be.

For me, the best segment of all was “The Gal Who Got Rattled.” The Coen Brothers could have made a feature-length film from this segment, but it works just as beautifully as a short story.

The Coen brothers are always unpredictable as to what their next move may be, but one thing that can be easily predicted is that they will always make exactly the movies they want to make. And that’s why we love them.