Saturday, December 22, 2018

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Movie Name: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Year of Release: 2018
Director: Joel & Ethan Coen
Stars: Tim Blake Nelson, Liam Neeson, Zoe Kazan, James Franco, Brendan Gleeson, Tom Waits, Willie Watson, Clancy Brown, David Krumholtz, Stephen Root, Bill Heck, Grainger Hines, Saul Rubinek, Tyne Daly, Jonjo O'Neill, Jefferson Mays, Harry Meling, Michael Cullen, Sam Dillon
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
View Trailer

Synopsis & Review:
After the disappointing "Hail, Caesar!", the Coen brothers return with a film written, produced and directed for streaming giant Netflix. The film is an anthology of short stories taking place on the old west, varying in tone, length and focus. The first segment focuses on Buster Scruggs, a deft, resourceful and somewhat ruthless gun slinger, who rights some wrongs, and who eventually finds his match. The second segment follows the story of a Cowboy, who following an unsuccessful robbery attempt finds himself at the mercy of the law, only to be rescued right before being hanged, but who then immediately falls under the law's long embrace. The third segment follows the story of an Impresario who goes from small town to small town with an artist, who basically performs and narrates poems/plays in order to make a living for the both them. The fourth vignette focuses on the story of a Prospector, who is aiming to discover gold. He eventually finds what he is looking for, only to be confronted by a young man intent on getting what he has discovered. The fifth segment tackles the story of Alice Longabaugh, who is moving to Oregon, with her brother and her dog, in the hopes of settling and starting a new life there, with a potential associate of her brother's. However during the journey, he passes away, and Alice has no money to pay the young cowboy handling her caravan, and she falls under the protection of kind and considerate Billy Knapp. The sixth segment follows a group of characters, all traveling within the same stagecoach, and who come to realize that the two finely dressed gentlemen who are part of the group, are bounty hunters, and are in reality carrying with them someone they've hunted down.
"The Ballad of Buster Scruggs" is an uneven film, much like a lot of the films that are part of the Coen brothers extensive body of work. However it's also a film that allows them to paint stories quickly and to the point, which at times feels like one of their initial trademarks (which they displayed on "Raising Arizona" for instance). The stories/vignettes that they illustrate, are uneven, and the characters very economically presented, save for the most interesting and juiciest segment, which features strong performances from Zoe Kazan, Bill Heck and Grainger Hines, the segment under the title "The Gal Who Got Rattled". If most segments feel superficial and mostly impeccable illustrations of two directors who have a somewhat surreal sense of humor and comedy, the most dramatic ones suggest more to explore, though that's never the direction that the film embarks on. There's a somewhat uneven tone to the stories, though the dark humor permeates throughout, ultimately making them watchable (though not sufficiently memorable). The cinematography from Bruno Delbonnel is stunning as is the score of Carter Burwell. Another well executed, yet forgettable endeavor from a talented directorial team.