The Ballad of Buster Scruggs – A Review Haiku

Written by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Directed by Ethan Coen and Joel Coen

SYNOPSIS

An anthology of six different stories from the Old West.

HAIKU REVIEW

Trademark Dark Humor;
Reliant On Dialogue;
And Inconsistent.

GRADE: B-

ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS

It seems so strange to criticize a Coen Brothers film for being too dialogue-heavy, considering that they have been my favorite screenwriters for two decades. But in this case, I needed something more than their trademark quipability to really get into the story. Being an anthology with six different short stories, it felt like they wanted to use as many words as possible to establish exposition when it wasn’t necessary. Don’t get me wrong, the dialogue is far from bad, but I had hoped for more of a pace to something segmented like this. Things start off very promising and the first story sets you up to expect a certain kind of movie that you don’t exactly get. Interestingly, one of my favorite segments, “All Gold Canyon,” may have had the least dialogue. But maybe I just loved it because of Tom Waits. That’s entirely possible .

What I loved about it was how it represented all kinds of western tropes within the same movie. Gold prospectors. Wagon trains on the Oregon Trail. Duals in the street decided by the faster gun. Bank robberies and hangings. Apache war parties. Wanted posters. Because the Coens have such flare for characters, even those inhabiting these tropes don’t feel like cliches even when they absolutely are. Actors make the most of their limited screen time and largely appear to be having a blast (especially Tim Blake Nelson and Stephen Root), which will put a smile on your face bigger than a ten gallon hat. Certain people are so good at chewing scenery that you will find yourself wishing they had an entire movie to inhabit rather than such a short story. The old adage of “leave them wanting more” seems appropriate here, so in that light it is a definite success.

The Coens are their own genre. In fine form yet again, they blend humor with violence and create some wonderful and memorable moments that are equal parts zany and bold. They achieve some great shots and showcase all possible landscapes of the American west, from the lush to the barren, appreciating all of them. There are few who can do it like them, and in would argue that perhaps they are peerless when it comes to consistent quality of output for such a long time. This may not be Joel and Ethan’s best work but it is certainly worthy of their catalog and deserves to be seen, even if you watch it in segments.

 

 


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