The Ballad of Buster Scruggs by The Coen Brothers: Movie review.


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Zoe Kazan as Anna Longabaugh in the best segment of a mixed bag of short wild west films.

Portmanteau (anthology) movies are hard to pull off effectively.  My favourites would be Amores Perros, Inaritu’s incredible debut that uses three dog stories to loosely draw together his take on the fragility of love, and The Argentinian classic, Wild Stories, written and directed by Damián Szifron, united by a common them of violence and vengeance.

Other directors who have tackled the ‘genre’ effectively are Hitchcock and the celebrated triumvirate of Coppola, Scorsese and Allen for New York Stories.  It’s most widely used as a structure in horror.

Here, The Coen Brothers continue, for me, their hit and miss career with a near miss, but a miss nonetheless.

It’s a six story Western. Part spoof, part serious drama.  But the mix of genres they employ means that the whole is less than the sum of its parts.  Some of the stories reach  a conclusion when the stories are barely developed, others could last longer to make them more engaging,

By far the highlights are the opening Buster Scruggs spoof which is laugh out loud hilarious and the endearing “The Gal Who Got Rattled” featuring a stand out performance from Zoe Kazan, ably supported by her love interest Bill Heck (playing Billy Knapp) and old timer Grainger Hines as Mr Arthur.

Tom Waits puts in a good turn as a prospector in All Gold Canyon.  But the story is daft.

The sixth and last, featuring Brendan Gleeson, is just not very good at all.

I’m not sure what’s to blame here.  Are the Coens just such royalty that they can’t be challenged?  Certainly a number of their films are just not very good at all but Fargo and No Country For Old Men are absolute classics.

I also felt the colourisation was overused and again variably effective.  At its best it created a richness and depth that was highly appealing.  At its worst (in the sixth segment) it just made everything murky.

I have higher expectations of Netflix’s other big bet, Roma, That screens from 15 December.  For now you’ll have to be content with this curate’s egg.