The latest from the Joel and Ethan Coen, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs features their return to the Western genre since their 2010 remake of True Grit. Buster Scruggs is an anthology film composed of six stories of varying quality. While their gallows humor is on full display, the jokes don't always land. More clever than funny, redeemed by the sublime cinematography.
The first tale "The Ballad of Buster Scruggs" stars Tim Blake Nelson as a singing outlaw with a knack for getting out of dicey situations - until his luck runs out. By far the goofiest vignette with some quirky musical interludes, Scruggs feels like a Simpsons short.
"Near Algodnes" follows James Franco as a skittish cowboy in perhaps the weakest entry with an extremely abrupt ending reminiscent of "An Occurrence At Owl Creek's Ridge."
"Meal Ticket" features Liam Neeson who runs a stage show that features an armless and legless young man who recites poetry to amazed crowds. Also ends abruptly, misanthropic to the extreme.
An unrecognizable Tom Waits performs a mostly one man show in "All Gold Canyon" as a "grizzled prospector" hard at work. Banal and surreal simultaneously.
"The Gal Who Got Rattled" is the longest and most ponderous chapter with Zoe Kazan as a young woman on The Oregon Trail who endures a series of misfortunes. Another gut punch ending!
The final chapter "The Mortal Remains" is set on a stagecoach featuring two singing bounty hunters, a Polish count, a talkative trapper, and a pious woman played by Tyne Daily. The most philosophical chapter that's playfully existential.
Coen Brother films have a way of getting better with time. The advantage of an anthology movie is that they're usually worth revisiting if there's at least one great episode. Not sure if there's a brilliant episode here, but they do have a consistent tone that sustains all six stories.
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