Movie: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
My Rating: 5 stars
This is one of the darkest, most wonderful collection of short stories I’ve seen in a really long time. I was almost completely shocked by what I was watching, thinking that there was no way a movie studio would have greenlit such a subversive film. But, then I remembered that it was a Netflix exclusive, and they’ve been known to get behind some pretty unorthodox material. This is a set of six, dark, short stories—each one more horrible and ghoulish than the last. All of them are set in the Old West . . . or at least “frontier country.” And each story has some terrible observation to make about human nature, or about just what a bitch fate can be sometimes.
I knew absolutely nothing about this movie before sitting down to watch it, so I was really taken by surprise. I knew it was a Coen Brothers film, and I remembered that they’ve always had a pretty sardonic streak in their work. But, I don’t think I ever thought of them as being quite this bleak. But, perhaps I’m looking at this all wrong. I’m painting the movie as harsh drama, where it really is black comedy. Sure, it’s comedy that’ll have you shaking a fist at the heavens. And, it may incite an existential crisis or two. But, that’s pretty much a weekly occurrence around my place. And frankly, that’s the kind of movie I like best. I like the kind of people that like them too. And, this really is a great film. There are tons of great actors—it really is an enormous ensemble cast—and they’re all doing a great job. The sets are impressive, and the cinematography is gorgeous. The filmmaking captures a lot of the spectacular natural beauty of the frontier that most of the old Western films pretty much ignore—mountain panoramas, beautiful big skies, deep, dark forests, etc. And, the gorgeous scenery is such a perfect contrast against the twisted stories the film has to tell. It’s very well done.
I loved this movie. I’d watch it again, except that the surprise of each story really is half the fun. I would absolutely recommend it to anybody hearty enough to roll with the ironic gut punches. This isn’t a movie for sensitive babies. Because, there really isn’t much reprieve from the dark material. I’ve been thinking about it ever since I saw it, and I love when a movie can make me do that. Check it out and let me know which story you liked best.