The Coen Brothers have done it again. The makers of The Big Lebowski, Burn After Reading, A Serious Man and other fantastic films, have now put out this Netflix Original about the Old West. But breaking from their normal style, this is an anthology film, telling six different stories within its two-hour runtime.
Netflix original movies do not have the best track record. That is partially due to them having a contract with Adam Sandler, meaning he dumps his awful movies onto the platform, but it isn’t just him. There have also been countless movies, like Mute, The Cloverfield Paradox, Bright, and Open House, all of which are terrible and only the tip of the iceberg. But there are a handful of really good movies, like Okja, and Mudbound. But The Ballad of Buster Scruggs steps it up a notch.
This sometimes wacky, often grim, and thought-provoking piece is amongst the best movies of the year. It feels like all the different Coen Brothers styles they have tried throughout the years wrapped into one movie. It has one chapter that is wacky and stylish like Hail Caesar, one chapter that is slow moving and bleak like A Serious Man. It has their typical dark humor. Some may complain about tonal whiplash because each of the chapters do offer a very different tone. I don’t really mind it, in fact, I appreciate that it offers different tones so that each story truly feels like its own thing.
The directing and camera work is top notch, and the production is fantastic for a Netflix movie. I love most of the set design at work here. The acting is also very good. And of course, since it is a Coen Brothers movie, it has top-notch writing and dialogue.
I do not want to spoil anything, but I will say there are some chapters I liked more than others. If I had to rank them, I would say the first segment, called The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, is my favorite. It is great wacky fun and has the most interesting character in the movie. All Gold Canyon is my second favorite. It mostly focuses on one person, but it is perfectly paced and has a satisfying payoff. Meal Ticket is 3rd, it is slow building, but also unnerving as hell, which I love. Then Near Algodones, which probably has the simplest story of the movie, but it is funny and ripe with irony. The final two chapters though, The Gal Who Got Rattled and The Mortal Remains both have their strong points, but both also have pacing issues. The Gal who Got Rattled drags on for too long, and Mortal Remains is too short and needs to be explored more. Both are still good, in fact, Mortal Remains would have been my favorite if it was just a little longer, but the pacing issues put them a little below the other four.
The fact it is from Netflix, and an Anthology, probably hurt its chances at the Oscars, but I definitely think it is deserving of some nominations. I really enjoyed it, more than any other movie I have watched this year so far. Some of it does get very dark and bleak, but if you enjoy the Coen Brothers, you should love this.