When it comes to anthology films, they are usually more miss than hit. And when it comes to original films from Netflix, quite honestly, it’s a tossup. But bringing in the Coen Brothers, who are some of the best filmmakers in the industry over the past few decades, things are sure to look promising for both the anthology genre and Netflix’s original film catalogue. Originally conceived as a six-part miniseries, the Coen Brothers pieced together all the stories into one, two-plus hour film called The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. Playing out from one crazed, western story to the next like flipping through a book (literally), Buster Scruggs is easily the Coen Brothers’ best movie since True Grit. Featuring a collection of great off-the-wall characters, blended with the Coen Brothers’ signature dark humor inserted in dramatic events, it’s difficult not to enjoy the events that play out from one chapter to the next (no matter how dark or grim they may get).
An anthology of six short films that take place in 19th-century post-Civil War era during the settling of the Old West.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs features an all-star cast, including Coen veteran, Tim Blake Nelson, James Franco, Liam Neeson, Tom Waits, Zoe Kazan, and Brendan Gleeson; each one stars in a separate chapter. Each chapter they star in is different from the others and shows how grim or unique all areas of the frontier were. One moment, you might be laughing your ass off in the chapter focused on the titular character of the film or in the one chapter featuring a guy running around wearing cooking pots. The next, you might feel a little somber by a one-man show traveling from town to town or how looking for gold for days and days can amount to who knows what. Either way, each story presents you with a unique look at the human condition and how different areas of the west affect the characters we see on screen. And thanks to the Coen Brothers’ script, each chapter is more enjoyable and fun to watch, and might lead one to revisit certain chapters long after seeing the film for the first time.
Moving from one chapter to the next at a brisk pace, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs shifts tones smoothly with every different story. We could go into detail and give highlights about each story, but since each story is only 20 minutes long at the max, and since we do not want to risk spoiling anything, it’s better to go into Buster Scruggs with as little knowledge of the chapters as possible. However, it’s worth noting that the highlight story of the film is the one about the titular character, played by Tim Blake Nelson. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is accompanied by a wonderful score from Carter Burwell, who presents different kinds of Western-style music into each new chapter. Collaborating with the Coen Brothers once again, cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel offers up some luscious shots of the western frontier. Be it inside a saloon, a carriage, a valley where there may be gold, or just a close-up shot of a character, Delbonnel’s shots immerse you into the frontier and the actions these characters take.
Slowly, but surely, Netflix has been upping the ante for its original films by bringing in some of the best filmmakers in the world. Roping in the Coen Brothers is further proof that the streaming service is beginning to get serious about the film production side of their business. While there still are questions about their theatrical release strategy and their algorithm for promoting their content when you log in to watch, Netflix is coming around by bringing in some of the best filmmakers and giving them the freedom to tell the stories they want to tell us. And with The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, the Coen Brothers are able to show us their short stories, written over the last 20-plus years, for the first time. Offering up another unique look at the unforgiving frontier of the west, mixed with their style of filmmaking and writing, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs offers up not only one of the best Netflix offerings on the streaming service (film or show), but also one of the best films of the year. So, if you’re looking for something to watch on your Netflix this weekend, then saddle up with Buster Scruggs and enjoy all the horsin’ around each chapter presents to you. You’re in for one atypical, but wholly entertaining, journey into the Old West.