The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs ★★★★

Like all anthology films there are stronger and weaker segments, but this is probably one of the more consistent films of that strange subgenre. I think the opening segment is indisputably the film's greatest, with the delightful mix of absurdity, comedy, and full on nihilism that acts as both an announcement of the film's mission statement and the purest expression of that mission, anchored by Tim Blake Nelson's God-tier performance that perfectly encapsulates both the amiable humour and overwhelming brutality that are at the film's bittersweet heart. But all of the segments have their many charms - aside from the third and final segments I would say they could all be reasonably described as "really good", particularly "All Gold Canyon" and "The Gal Who Got Rattled", the former of which features an unforced commentary on capitalism's relationship with nature and a very amusing Tom Waits performance, and the latter of which has perhaps both the film's sweetest and saddest moments. And with that said, the weaker segments are still extremely solid, each concluding with a pretty effective gut punch.

Strangely, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is a very pleasant film to watch, generally, despite the fact the majority of the tales being told in it are basically depressing tragedies about the random cruelty and absurd horror of being alive. This particular tonal tight-rope is not new territory for the Coens, and I suppose you could say this is not them reinventing the wheel. But I don't think anybody can really do this vibe quite like they can, and when they're doing it in a way that is this well-crafted, enjoyable, and genuinely affecting, it's hard to really complain. I don't think I've really got a comprehensive enough knowledge of their body of work to declare things major or minor works, but this is, if not major, at the very least teetering on the edge of it. My only real complaint is that the cinematography is kind of unpleasantly digital looking, but I will also admit that that is an extremely irritating nitpick, and the film has plenty of lovely imagery and cinematography, so it's hard to complain too much.

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