Film Review: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs – 7/10

‘There’s just gotta be a place up ahead, where men ain’t low down, and poker’s played fair…’

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There are a number of fundamental problems that exist for me with The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. Firstly, as with Quentin Tarantino, the Coen brothers have become warped by success. Since the deserved praise that was lavished upon No Country For Old Men, their output has become increasingly smug and insular, culminating in the Hollywood circle jerk that was Hail, Caesar! Secondly, I cannot get on with Westerns. I didn’t manage one full episode of Godless. I can barely remember Unforgiven. Even The Good, The Bad and the Ugly was a bit of a slog in spite of its many moments of genius. Lastly, while The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is essentially an anthology, it is still presented as a feature film. Had these six vignettes been split into episodes and watched over time I would almost certainly have enjoyed them more. The monkey brain just cannot concentrate on one thing for more than an hour at a time.

And yet…

And yet, when …Buster Scruggs is good, it does manage to recapture some of that old Coen’s magic.  I was always going to love a segment focusing on Tom Waits as an old time prospector because I could watch Tom Waits sitting on the toilet for thirty minutes and still get a kick out of it. Not in a sexual way. And it’s weird that your mind even went there, sicko.

The final section featuring an Englishman, an Irishman and a Frenchman being escorted to the afterlife is also viscerally thrilling. The other stories just kind of passed me by in that way that Westerns do. It was like watching Deadwood again and trying to make sense of why people are so interested in what was, essentially, quite a short and dull period of history.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is a movie by master film makers and an all-star cast but one that left me as cold as a cowboy’s spur on a winter’s night. I am the wrong audience for this movie. I was also the wrong audience for Hail, Caesar! and True Grit and even Burn After Reading. It makes me long for a time when the Coen brothers wrote movies that I was the right audience for. But then I guess that’s just like my opinion, man…

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