Quirky director’s Joel and Ethan Coen return to the big screen, and their first feature made for a streaming service, with The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, a bonanza of six mini-movies all originating from the American frontier coming to select cinemas and Netflix in November.
Part musical, part comedy and part drama, a razor-sharp script coupled with slick performances make this a highly enjoyable ride, but one that becomes a little self-indulgent and loses its sense of fun the longer it goes on.
The problem is that it starts off too well. The opening two segments are so gloriously outrageous, violent, funny and exciting that the remaining tales struggle to maintain that energy and become slightly laboured by too much narrative. That’s not to say they aren’t any good, they’re just not as good.
Each story is fascinating in its own way, whether it’s a slightly deranged prospector searching for gold in them thar hills, a limbless actor struggling to make a living in unforgiving circumstances or a bank robber’s relationship with the hangman’s noose. Some of these yarns are more memorable than others, but all leave their mark.
There’s several excellent performances particularly from singing six-shooter Tim Blake Nelson, Harry Melling, who manages to convey a plethora of emotions with just his eyes, Tom Waits, Zoe Kazan and an eerily eccentric Jonjo O’Neill, a bounty hunter that you wouldn’t want to read you a bedtime story.
The cinematography is spectacular with sweeping vistas and majestic mountainsides all looking magnificent and you can virtually taste the dryness and dust in the air where the deer and the antelope play. That’s credit to cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel who makes full use of his surroundings to make the West feel particularly wild.
Arguably more suited to Netflix where each story could’ve been extended to make six longer episodes, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is a rootin’ tootin’ adventure that lassoes you in, before running out of bullets.