The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018) Movie Review

By: Oberst Von Berauscht (A Toast) –

Git along lil doggies! This here is a collection uh six o th’ rootininst-tootinist tall tales to e’r grace th’ large o’ small screen. But shucks, ah know you’ll be gittin tired o’ my attempts to put to pen a country drawl. Fer the sake uh yer sanity aw’ll drop the suth’un twang an’ just git down to bid’ness.

“REV-REND!”

The first, titular short follows a drifting guitar playing gunslinger with a price on his head for misanthropy.

The second short Near Algodones follows a would-be bank robber with the worst streak of luck you’ve ever seen.

The third short Meal Ticket ups the ante on the bad-luck streak by following a carny promoter and his lone remaining act (an armless/legless actor) as they travel from town to town, scraping the bottom of the barrel for audiences.

The fourth short All Gold Canyon opens on an untouched mountain valley as a loud and quirky gold hunter interrupts the serenity for a few days of prospecting.

The fifth short The Gal who Got Rattled focuses on a young woman heading to Oregon with a wagon train. She is accompanied by her brother, and plans to fulfill an arranged marriage of dubious prospect.

The sixth and final short The Mortal Remains joins a group of travelers on a stage coach as they engage in a divisive philosophical discussion which is soon overcome as they are emotionally united by a mutually horrifying conversation.

What is so horrifying that these three cannot take it?

A Toast

Anthology films are seldom given large theatrical releases mostly because they are hard to sell to audiences, and have historically been met with mixed reviews and below-average box office response. Perhaps Netflix is the best venue to release such a production (at least from a financial standpoint). Even though the big screen will always be preferable to the distractions of the home viewing experience.

Taken as a stand-alone project, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is one of the most compelling anthology films of recent memory. Each of the six films are tied together with a common theme, while also running the narrative gamut with an impressive array of stories and perspectives. The common theme I mentioned is one which the Coen Brothers have consistently explored throughout their careers; the dark and treacherous side of human nature. So many anthology films begin to drag, particularly when the stories hit the same beats or if the collected works are met with inconsistent enthusiasm from the viewer. As with all Coen projects, that the story has meaning is very clear, but what that meaning is exactly… is left up to you to decide.

Individually, each of the shorts serve as a sample of the many different types of movies the Coen Brothers have made over the course of their careers. Every short features pathos and humor, but the level of each varies from story to story. For their part, the cast is pitch perfect. Not a single performer overplays their card. Some in fact are so subtle in their role that you may even miss them entirely. Their presence as a performer is felt, but without any ego or reliance on star power.

Bonus points to Tom Waits for somehow managing to appear even shabbier and more grizzled than his usual appearance.

Overall, this is an excellent collection of films well worth a ride or two down the old country road.

Verdict

These six campfire tales will warm you at times, chill you at others, but mostly deeply depress you. That said, if you’re like me, you like a bit of catharsis every once in awhile. That being the case, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is more than enough to scratch that itch.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018) Drinking Game

Take a Drink: when tragedy leads to more tragedy

Take a Drink: when a character sings

Take a Drink: for computer-generated wildlife

Drink a Shot: at the bookends of each story

About Oberst von Berauscht

Oberst Von Berauscht once retained the services of a Gypsy to imbue in him the ability to accurately describe the artistic qualities of a film up to seven decimal points. To maintain this unique skill, he must feast on the blood of a virgin every Harvest Moon, or failing that (and he usually does), he can also make a dog do that thing they do where they twist their heads slightly (you know, when they're confused about something) at least a few times a week. I've gotten way off track here... The point is, Oberst is one of the website's founders, so... yeah

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