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The Ballad of Buster Scruggs paints a vivid landscape of the Wild West

While each of its 6 stories paints a meaningful portrait of its denizens

Claude Brun, Video Editor
Originally published January 17, 2019


Netflix has been upping their game with their original content recently but “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” takes it to a whole new level. Directed by the Coen brothers, shot by an Oscar-nominated cinematographer and featuring an all star cast, it is a film that would not feel out of place on the big screen. In fact, this is one of the best films to come out this year, despite its unconventional, six-part anthology style.

While this structure of six unconnected stories leads to some jarring tonal jumps, it makes the movie feel like a (mostly) exhilarating roller coaster ride through everything the Western genre has to offer. As the film jumped from an upbeat but nonetheless murderous cowboy to a loony gold prospector to a clueless pioneer on the Oregon Trail, I was left with little time to ponder the last story’s ending as I was flung right into the beginning of the next.

The last chapter felt very different from the rest, leaving me to questions its inclusion as I first watched it. However, as I picked up on the various clues pointing towards what was actually happening, I realized that it is thematically tied back to the other chapters brilliantly. On its own, this chapter may have been good, but its inclusion at the end of the film should leave the viewer with a sense of catharsis.

While “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” carries all of the hallmarks of your classic western–cold blooded criminals, naive pioneers, lonely horse rides across the frontier and tense saloon fights to name a few–in reality, it’s more of a meta-western in the way it presents these tropes, often showing them in a way that feels cleverly self aware and subverting our expectations. One of the central themes of the film is how people in Westerns (or perhaps in the Wild West in general) treat each other with little humanity or compassion, perhaps due to the stark and dangerous nature of their surroundings or even because of a dark self-serving urge within all of us that is just brought to the forefront by the lawless nature of the West.

Period correct dialogue strikes the perfect balance between accurate and understandable to a modern day audience and is delivered brilliantly by the ensemble cast. This attention to detail is carried throughout the film, with every shot and every line being so packed with authenticity that it was hard to not get lost in each and every chapter of the film.

The star-studded cast is best left to discover for yourself, as being introduced to some of Hollywood’s top brass in the beginning of each chapter was part of the what made “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” such a pleasant surprise to me. In fact this is a movie filled with pleasant surprises, and—since it’s on Netflix—there’s no good reason to pass it up.

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The Ballad of Buster Scruggs paints a vivid landscape of the Wild West