A review of the new Coen brothers’ movie “The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs”

Over a period of 35 years of filmmaking, American brothers Joel and Ethan Coen are known for a succession of movies that are invariably quirky but always engaging. This 18th movie – where again they write, produce and direct – is a six-part love letter to the Hollywood western. Each tale evokes classic characters of the West: guitar-playing sharp shooter, unfortunate bank robber, travelling impressario and his strange act, lone gold prospector, members of a wagon train, and strangers on a stagecoach.

Each segment stands alone in that there are no common characters or themes besides the Old West itself, but the six stories are presented as chapters in a book, each with an opening illustration and a line of dialogue underneath. Perhaps inevitably the components are uneven in their engagement of the viewer with strangely the first (the titular ballad) and last (the stagecoach) being the oddest and the penultimate one – cowboys and indians, love and death on the wagon trail – being the most captivating.

The cinematography is often stunning and all the characters – so many of them gruff men in scraggy beards – are unfailingly wonderful to watch with some fine performances from a largely unknown cast (Liam Neeson – almost unrecognisable – is the only real star). Once again, the Coens have triumphed with their trademark mix of violence, humour and twists plus a deep love of the old movies and a willingness to subvert them.


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