The Ballad of Buster Scruggs Movie Review

Updated: Jan 20, 2019

Ralph Ineson as "The Man in Black" in The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (Image Courtesy of Netflix)

In 2018, the genre of westerns is essentially considered the extinct genre of filmmaking. While indie releases in the genre are still prevalent, notable releases have frustratingly been absent from the mass audience diet, which usually just consists of loudly obnoxious comic-book and action films. Many critics of the genre have cited that it was the failure of the genre to innovate as the reason for its downfall. However, with the Coen Brothers’s latest release, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, debuting on Netflix and in select theaters, the western genre receives a refreshing and bold take that merges satire and irony to create one of the most authentic experiences that can be found at the cinema, even more so a mobile device. Buster Scruggs features six distinct storylines and protagonists, all equally divided in the meaty 133-minute run time. Unlike other entries in the genre, this storytelling decision revolutionizes the possibilities of the film, allowing each storyline to receive the benefits of and act as a short film. And while this decision does lead to a collective experience that feels almost too disparate, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs retains its singular vision of a daunting western landscape through its multi-faceted storytelling of satirical and ironic comedy.

Image Courtesy of Netflix

As noted previously, what distinguishes Buster Scruggs from its similarly classified companions is its decision to include six storylines, all colliding seemingly as individual short films. As such, it creates a raw and fresh experience that hasn’t been seen or replicated in recent memory. It allows the storylines to feature some dauntingly bold creative decisions and tones while still maintaining the direct attention of the audience. Upon reflection however, I’m unsure if this form of storytelling should be replicated in other works with this degree.

Tom Waits as "Prospector" in The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (Image Courtesy of Netflix)

Easily the biggest hole in this form of the storytelling would be the world that these characters supposedly breath and murder in. But not once was I under the impression that these characters even existed in the same world due to each storyline being so vastly different from the others. It’s lead to an effect where the film becomes disjointed, weighed down by multiple films in of itself that don’t seem to belong with each other. A quick and seamless remedy to the issue could have been the Coens’ decision to insert re