Second Sight: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018) - Reviewed

While not following the Coen Brothers with the focus on a owl like a lot of their fans do (and for good reason given their fine work), I am always excited to see any new output from the duo.  It pleases me to remind myself that the Coen Brothers are responsible for films such as Raising Arizona, Miller's Crossing, Fargo, The Big Lebowski, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and my personal favorite No Country for Old Men.

The Coen Brothers have never been afraid to get dust on their shoes with a just the few films I mentioned above.  It is a recurring theme in a lot of their work.  The open plains, the dustiness of the prairie.  It is simply hypnotic.  So, of course, when ‘The Ballad of Buster Scruggs’ appeared from the ether, I was feverishly curious to indulge.

Entirely written, directed, and produced by the Coen brothers, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is a Western anthology peppered with the standard Coen dark wit and humor that has made them the icons they have become over the last three decades.  The Coen imprint is apparent here with the use subtle, yet linear narratives that explain themselves act by act.  There are stronger vignettes from others in The Ballad of Buster Scruggs as I will explain below:

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs:

The lighthearted, musical opener here.  Tim Blake Nelson lone rangers his way throne this fun installment.  Definitely imprinted with the Coen stamp of surrealism.

Near Algodones:

James Franco showing some real range here in this sweaty chapter.  Kind of fell flat for me though.  Very strong ending though.

Meal Ticket:

Fantastic cameo by Liam Neeson.  Definitely the darkest installment of all six vignettes here.

All Gold Canyon:

Tom Waits absolutely kills in this installment.  The most scenic of the films.  Also, the most emotionally driving.  My personal favorite.

The Gal Who Got Rattled:

The tragic installment of film.  Bill Heck and Zoe Kazan deliver solid here.  Another highlight.

The Mortal Remains:

The failing closer.  Made we want to just get the film over with at this point, and I do not want to hear “well, you just don’t get it”.  It bored me to death.

All in all The Ballad of Buster Scruggs will go down as the solid installment, but not the apex of their work chapter in the duos legendary career.  If you love the wonder of the west in film, this is mandatory viewing.

 --Scott Lambert