The Ballad of Buster Scruggs: And Several Other Boring Stories

This “movie” isn’t really a straight forward telling of a normal story. Instead we are greeted with several miniature stories. Some of them are great, however most are long and drawn out. It felt a bit incomplete and pretentious. The 2018 Netflix Original Movie, written and directed by Ethan and Joel Coen (the extremely talent minds behind No Country for Old Men, Fargo, The Big Labowski and Oh Brother Where Art Thou to name a few), returns the brothers back to the world of the old west to show us just how brutal and unforgiving life can be.

This movie has an easy time sucking you in. The title of ‘The Ballard of Buster Scruggs’ refers to one story, and it’s the first we see. Buster, played perfectly by Tim Blake Nelson, is a weird guy who dresses and talks so out-of-place for the wild west. This segment is what the trailer for the film promised and shows that weird Coen Brother’s style. My biggest issue is that I just want to see ‘that’ movie. The rest of the stories have merit, but none come close. They don’t really match the style the story with Buster. After finishing the movie I actually returned and re-watched the first segment again because it was just that much fun, unlike the rest of the movie.

I was considering reviewing each segment separately, but I just can’t do that. This was not formatted as an anthology TV show. I went in expecting to watch a movie and so I have to review it as such. The Buster Scruggs opening segment actually set up this film for failure. The rest of the movie may have some moments of dark humor that I enjoyed, but mostly it’s just way too serious of a film. The life of an average person in the west was filled with suffering, sadness, and death. The only people we see survive without scars are usually too evil to have a life of value at all. The movie is also incredibly long, so you are stuck watching over 2 hours of depressing death. Regardless of the great acting, you cannot sit through all of that and feel good.

The cast is over the top, like many Coen Brothers movies. We see James Franco as a bank robber, Liam Neeson as a travelling man, Brendan Gleeson as a bounty hunter, and Tom Waits as a gold prospector. There are a lot of faces I don’t recognize like Bill Heck and Zoe Kazan. Their story in particular might be the saddest segment. There are so many smaller parts played by actors that I love as well, but I just don’t have the ability to list them all. There is no doubt in my mind that you will watch this film and love the many colorful faces. But again, I think this is more of a deficit to the film then a helping hand. When you have so many stories and so many characters, you do not get to accurately flesh out any one individual aspect. It is hard for the audience to connect to the characters, and therefore care about them, when we only get to see 10 minutes of their life. I’m not saying the performances were anything less than amazing. I just want to see more of them.

I see a lot of movie reviews use the words “convoluted” and “disjointed” when referring to a messy plot. I feel that this movie might deserve those adjectives. The chapters are separated in a way that the audience clearly knows when one story has ended and the other begins, but I’m referring to the emotions. I feel so differently throughout this film that sometimes I have forgotten the previous segment. For some, that might be something you can enjoy, but for the quality the Coen Brothers have given time and time again, this one deserves The Snappening. We have plenty of westerns that tell the tales of the outlaws that roamed the wild west and the people who lived through the tough times. Shit, some of the best ones were from the Coen Brothers. Just watch those instead.


Movie Watched and Review Written by: Troy Smith

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