The Ballad of Buster Scruggs - The Coen Brothers, a Netflix Western


I’d agree. I think the interesting question is what, specifically, does setting works as period pieces provide the artist?


I still find it hard to appreciate just how much culture changed in the 1960s. Two other examples that kind of fit from the New Hollywood era would be Coming Home and The Deer Hunter, which were two of the first studio films to examine the fresh trauma of Vietnam.


Agree, though I think Cimino did a better job of really nailing that change. And that has roughly a 9-10 year spread between the Wedding and the Fall of Saigon.

But it isn’t that unique a time of cultural change. Imagine a film made in 1946 that was set in a Hooverville in 1933. Or set in 1928? Sometimes history happens in bunches.


These days I feel like every movie set prior to 2008 is a period piece.


Yeah, reminds me of the moment when I realized that The Wonder Years was only set 20 years prior to its broadcast date. Thus if it were done today, it be set in '98!


Lebowski is totally a period piece.


New trailer.

Probably because of RDR 2 (and also because this trailer was fantastic) but I’m super excited for this.


That looks so great.


That looks stunning. I haven’t enjoyed the Coen brothers recent films, but Scruggs will hopefully be a return to form.


Agree Mr. Tibbs. I don’t rank True Grit as highly as some do. Since No Country For Old Men (their absolute masterpiece so far, IMO), I’ve only really held A Serious Man in high regard. But I want this to be great.


OTOH, the Coen’s film-making is so stylized that it hardly matters whether they’re period pieces. The trailer for Scruggs has me drooling for this film.


Agree on Scruggs.

I think they do what they have to with their period pieces. I mean that in a good way. The performances and language are true to the periods portrayed, as are the continuity/design/set elements. Nothing is out of period. Coen stylings or not, they are 100% believable as set in the time periods they are in. They really are remarkable filmmakers.


I stayed up until 2am watching this film. (I meant to just sample the first vignette, but got trapped.) It’s real good and real bleak. All the segments are great, but the Zoe Kazan segment stands out from the rest, and the final segment wouldn’t work nearly as well without Jonjo O’Neill’s (who?) expressive face. So many great actors in this film who only get a minute or two of screen time, but just have a ball with it. (“Pan shot!”) And the cinematography will win an Oscar.


My god this movie. I woke up over and over last night thinking about it.
They used every tool and mechanism of western myth-making to just rip the myths we tell ourselves about our American virtues apart.
It feels very timely and very purposeful and I just keep turning it over and over in my mind.
After watching all the vignettes, it re-colors all the previous ones for me.
And that last shot of the back of the book cover.


I probably should sleep on this because I’ll probably have more to say later, but I’d say it was a movie worth watch’n.

But it’s not a movie. It’s a pocket. Made up of six stories. They might be related, but they aren’t.

Six Shooter.

But not between the eyes. Or maybe if you look up. Does that count?

I’d rate them in order: (I reserve the right to change this upon reflection)

The Gal who got rattled
All Gold Canyon
The Ballad of Buster Scrugs
The Mortal Remains
Near Algodones
Meal Ticket

My biggest issue was with the minutia, but then maybe there is a message here?

In All Gold Canyon, where was the kids horse, mule or pack?
In The Mortal Remains, why does the stagecoach leave with their bags? (or why don’t they have bags?)
In The Gal who got rattled, saying you might not find Gilbert I have a hard time believing.
In Meal Ticket, how can the artist talk for so long without water?
In The Ballad of Buster Scrugs, why are the streets empty?
In Near Algodenes, who got the horse?


My son and I enjoyed all but one of the stories (we couldn’t figure out what the point of Meal Ticket was - it was long, boring, and had an entirely unsatisfying conclusion). My favorite was the one with James Franco.

“This your first time?”

But I also really loved The Gal Who Got Rattled (I’m going by @Tman for these titles, I don’t remember them) and All Gold Canyon, as well as Buster Scruggs himself. Five of them were great stories, and a sixth I could have done without and had a shorter film.

But, that said, I think I have to give the over all film maybe a B- or so, because it should have been so much more. While I liked the stories, I think I’d have better enjoyed something closer to a traditional western, if that makes sense, to what I think was more a “zany” kind of Western tale. We don’t get a lot of modern Westerns these days, and the Coen brothers have done solid work in this space before. So that feels like a bit of a missed opportunity. I love they made it an anthology of short tales, but I also would have liked a “wrapper” story tying it all together, sort of like how the horror films do it (like Creepshow, or that great western horror movie I can’t remember the name of*, where the guys are out on the plains telling scary stories around a fire).

*It was Grim Prairie Tales, I remembered it had James Earl Jones in it so I found it on IMDB.


I actually was pleased that there was no wrapper. I think that showed a remarkable level of restraint; I’m a big fan of stripped down milieux in film making. The Coens just let each of the stories stand on their own.

Did you think that any of the others had a satisfying conclusion? I thought that was the point. This was like a collection of Flannery O’Conner stories set in the west instead of the south, and Meal Ticket was the most explicitly O’Conner-like of the stories.


Yes, that’s why I only singled out Meal Ticket.

They were (generally) very tragic*, for sure, but they had a good build up to the tragedy, entertaining characters and moments, and the tale was itself fun along the way. Meal Ticket was a super long montage that got really tiresome and then just… ended with an off-screen/implied murder. I loved the menace in that last scene, as he walks back to the wagon having tested the rock off the bridge, but the previous 12 or whatever minutes weren’t worth that little pay off.

*To the point where I’m convinced the gold prospector died like 10 minutes after the camera stopped following him.


I’d say that’s exactly where we fell with watching it last night. We enjoyed a couple of the stories, but came away with an overall, “that was okay.” It wasn’t great. It could have been. Any one of those particular stories, more fleshed out as a full movie, would have been preferable to what it was.

Also using the @Tman index, we enjoyed the following the most:
The Gold Canyon - Great scenery and mini-story that left us wanting more.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs - I think we would both enjoy a full length musical based on the premise.

Hell, really all but the last were enjoyable. Again, it left you wanting to see a movie on each one, as though you were just watching long trailers on YouTube with just highlights. Okay, well now we pivot completely, again. Don’t get me wrong, there are times when I like that in a movie. But short stories nag at me a bit. A lot of effort making a movie, with a FANTASTIC cast, sets, cinematography, etc. And it’s … mini-movies.

I’m sure Coen lovers will probably fawn over it but I wouldn’t rank it in their top tier at all.


I wonder if Buster Scruggs was such a bad singer on purpose, or if that was just a consequence of the actor they found? The guy at the end sounded really good though, and the harmony sung with Scruggs finally made him sound good.