Friday, 21 December 2018

The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs (2018) - Movie Review someone who has gone on record about being rather lukewarm with both the Coen brothers and the entire Western genre, this review is going to prove a little tricky. Doubly so because we’re dealing with an anthology film, the kind of fare that doesn’t exactly lend itself well to cohesion. There’s gonna be duds, there’s gonna be winners, and even then, that’s if you’re lucky; most of the time, it’s a collection of middling stories that wouldn’t be able to warrant a separate release, much less stand on their own alongside each other. Well, with all three ducks lined up in a row, I am thankful to report that this turns out good. Like, really damn good.

The Coens tap into their past experience with the Western setting, taking the dust-encrusted morbidity of True Grit, and merging it with their more lyric-tipped outings like O Brother Where Art Thou and Inside Llewyn Davis to create a collage of music and dark themes, one that gives a vibrant picture of the Western Frontier. Building on classic staples of landscape, from gunslingers to prospectors to the Oregon Trail, the stories we are shown are anchored by great and varied performances and some pretty choice dialogue.

They manage to take the typical downfall of any anthology film, the consistently-shifting tone, and use it to show a breadth of narrative variety. Starting out with the bombastic story that gives the film its title, showing Tim Blake Nelson as the most badass singing outlaw since Johnny Cash, they weave their way through punchy action, absurdist gallows humour, sombre contemplation and even a bit of their iconic approach to spirituality, all without missing a beat.

Even the somewhat duller moments feel like they would tear a hole in the production’s fabric if they were removed, and with the acting this consistently on-point, it’d be a damn shame to keep any of them out. From James Franco’s unlucky cowboy to Harry “Dudley from Harry Potter” Melling as the tragic artist to Tom Waits’ grizzled gold miner, not to mention Zoe Kazan as the fair romantic, this is a serious contender for best ensemble cast of the year.

It’s the kind of feature that feels like it’s breathing new life into olden flesh, crafting a collection of stories that all tell some harsh truth about life on the Frontier. While the opportunists may keep everyone on their toes, always worried that what is theirs will be snatched away, it is usually blind chance that spells the worst fates. It feels reminiscent of Slow West and its pitch-black comedic look at the unforgiving terrain, and it makes for a quite enthralling addition to the brothers’ already illustrious body of work.

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