The Ballad of Buster Scruggs Movie Review
Netflix paid Joel and Etan Coen a presumably large amount of money to make a western series. What they delivered is a boring, aimless two-hour movie about nothing, and death.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is a collection of six vignettes that only thematically tie together, and independently seek to waste your time. Each has a different cast of characters, and each plays as if the Coens dug around in their archives for half-built ideas they jotted down at some point in the past but never sought to produce because, you know, no one would want to watch them.
Because the vignettes are so random and uninteresting, here are my random and uninteresting thoughts on each:
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Tim Blake Nelson plays a cheerful cowboy whose demeanor masks an uncanny ability to shoot to kill. This segment is basically a more violent version of the Pixar short Boundin, which is mildly entertaining but instantly forgettable—save for the part Buster Scruggs gets killed and we get to see his soul fly into heaven on angel wings, singing in tune with the man who just killed him. I’m certain at this point that Netflix executives, in their first screening, were, “What. The. Fuck. Did. We. Pay. For.”
James Franco is a not-very-good bank robber who finds himself on the wrong end of the noose, repeatedly, in this one-note piece that has absolutely no staying power whatsoever. It’s easily the least memorable and flattest stretch of Ballad, largely thanks to its lack of plot and direction.
Harry Melling plays an armless and legless performer who travels the land with Liam Neeson as his caretaker. This segment primarily consists of a montage of Melling saying the same few lines of dialogue over and over again. As my wife put it, “It’s putting me to sleep it is so boring. It just sounds boring, and I’m not even watching it.” Its saving grace is an amusingly dark punchline.
All Gold Canyon
Tom Waits plays a prospector, but don’t feel ashamed if you think the Coens actually just kidnapped Nick Nolte, got him super drunk, and dropped him in the middle of nowhere just to film him mumbling to himself.
The Gal Who Got Rattled
The best vignette of the group, Zoe Kazan plays a young woman traveling west who finds love in an unexpected place. Engaging, interesting and concluding in exciting fashion, this is the sole part of the movie that had me fascinated throughout. Even then, it’s only great relative to the rest of the movie.
The Mortal Remains
Set exclusively in a stagecoach and focused on conversation between several strangers, the film’s concluding sequence operates like a Quentin Tarantino scene only without Tarantino’s flair for dialogue. It’s well written, and some of the characters entertaining (Chelcie Ross as an overly talkative trapper is a highlight), but there isn’t much here to care about.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs isn’t without its moments, but the whole film feels like a collection of the Coen Brothers’ least inspired attempts at storytelling. Perhaps watched individually as 20-minute episodes each of the vignettes would be slightly more amusing, but even then it’s hard to picture many people sticking them out. Forced together into a movie, they are nearly insufferable.
The Coen Brothers took Netflix for a ride, and the company got horse shit in return.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.