Monday, November 19, 2018

Review: "The Ballad of Buster Scruggs" is a victory lap for the Coen Bros.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs Review
Its no real secret that the Coen Brothers are some of the best American filmmakers to have ever entered the business. Over the course of their careers they have made a name for themselves with a unique visual style that has stayed persistent with their dramas and their comedies. For Netflix, they have made a Western anthology called "The Ballad of Buster Scruggs." The film features six stories that showcase every strength the Coen Brothers have ever had.

Who are the Coen Brothers?

Anybody who is a movie fan shouldn't need that question answered. But for everyone else, I'll be glad to indulge. They are guys that can scare you with their stark drama and at the same time make you laugh out loud with their comedy. They've been known to treat music like a character in some of their more musical movies. Some critics have accused them of misanthropy, but that's not true. They are just good at shaking out a laugh during serious circumstances. Its amazing that the team has been responsible for such a wide range of flicks including "The Big Lebowski," "Fargo," "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" "Inside Llewyn Davis," "Blood Simple" and "No Country For Old Men." 

The six segments aren't really connected in "The Ballad of Buster Scruggs" But each movie kind represents a piece of the Old West and what the themes stood for. The first segment, which bears the same title of the film. Tim Blake Nelson plays Buster Scruggs. He's a fine dressed cowboy who plays the guitar and sings as he roams the west on his horse. He breaks the fourth wall as he begins to talk to you, discussing this and that in the west. He talks too much, he looks like he might get in hot water with some people in a saloon. But that turns out not to be the case. He's got some fast fingers and he's deadly with a gun. Its a masterful performance as Nelson easily blends smugness and sincerity into one character. Eventually, Scruggs gets in over his head and it leads to one of the most bizarre scenes the Coen's have ever crafted.

The second segment is called "Near Algodones." The segment features James Franco robbing a bank only to find out he's in over his head. He eventually gets knocked out and gets ready to be hanged, but is in the right place at the right time, Indians attack the whiter lynchers. The Coens score some jetblack laughs in this scene and its well staged. Its funny watching Franco's character cheat death a couple times over. Which I guess is his characters' MO. There are some both funny and shocking moments in this segment which I found affecting.

I could go through each segment one at a time, but I don't want to spoil anything for anyone. This is by far the best thing Netflix has released originally. All Coen fans should rejoice because its classic Coens. The rest of the segments include such actors like Liam Neeson, Tom Waits, Zoe Kazan and Brendan Gleeson, just to name a few. A perfect blend of veteran Coen actors and newcomers all working together to make something truly memorable. Bruno Delbonnel's cinematography is luminous and creates a beautiful dream that was once the old west. 

I never would have thought something like "True Grit" would ever need to be remade. But somehow, the Coen's did the impossible and I still say that their "True Grit" from 2010 was a masterful piece of work. Even though it really isn't, "No Country For Old Men" feels like a western for most of its runtime, which is one of the reasons I love that movie so much. The Coens kind of have a knack for the Western genre. I'd love it if they just spent the rest of their career perfecting the genre and bringing it into a modern age. If they decide to team with Quentin Tarantino, even better. But even though the film is released on Netflix, make no mistake. This is classic Coen Brothers and they are firing on all of their cylinders for this.

This could end up being a turning point for the streaming service. If "The Christmas Chronicles" and their "Mowgli" movie stand out like this film does, Netflix could find their footing with their more "mainstream or blockbuster" fair. I look forward to seeing how well the rest of the year turns out for the streaming service.


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