The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
The Coens’ take on anthology film is a full-on Western. The title is taken from the opening tale, starring an irresistible Tim Blake Nelson. Part a meditation on American history and landscape – in particular, its more violent side – part a device to bring out all the different characters that the directorial duo charmed their audience with throughout the years, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs marks the first time the brothers go digital. And not only technically – the duo abandoned celluloid – as the picture will also be released exclusively on Netflix (the Silicon Valley studio has recently invested in bringing more auteurs in, including Alfonso Cuarón – promising them also an initial short theatrical release).
The Coens took inspiration from the Italian anthology films of the 60s – which featured multiple directors – and made a funny statement saying they sought the best filmmakers working today and that they were fortunate they both agreed (i.e. themselves).
With references to O Brother, Where Art Thou? – there’s some good, self-ironic singing from Blake Nelson – and True Grit, and even a bit of the tension from No Country for Old Men, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is entertaining as well as gripping.
James Franco stars as a whimsical cowboy in Near Algodones; Liam Neeson and Harry Melling sadden and make the viewer reflect with Meal Ticket; Tom Waits is a patient and greedy prospector in All Gold Canyon; Zoe Kazan and Bill Heck feature in the more structured of the stories, The Gal Who Got Rattled, which offers a broader picture of those years at the heart of the US origins; finally Brendan Gleeson leads the cast of the eerie (and humorous) final chapter, The Mortal Remains.
Although the format may suggest that this is not a proper film, that would be an incorrect assumption: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is a legitimate, meaningful part of the Coens’ canon.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Venice Film Festival 2018 coverage here.
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