First ‘Ballad of Buster Scruggs’ Reviews Criticize an Uneven Anthology from the Coens

     August 31, 2018


Even if reviews out of Venice called The Ballad of Buster Scruggs flaming garbage, that wouldn’t be enough to keep me away from the latest Coen Brothers movie (I own Intolerable Cruelty if that tells you anything). Thankfully, the reviews aren’t that harsh, but they’re also not incredibly kind. While the Coens were able to get themselves in the awards conversation from 2007 to 2013, it looks like their anthology picture isn’t going to exactly bowl over critics.  The first reviews out of Venice say that the Coens new movie, which was originally intended to be an anthology series for Netflix, highlights the directors best and worst tendencies.

In her lukewarm review, Jessica Kiang of The Playlist writes:

Taken individually, there are cherishable moments and performances scattered throughout “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” like so many flecks of gold amid the silt. But as a whole, the film has to be chalked down to a perplexingly minor addition to one of the most beloved cinematic canons of our time.

Eric Kohn of Indiewire is a bit harsher, writing:

As the unseen reader finishes the book, “Buster Scruggs” leaves much to be desired, and little to justify its heft. Regardless of whether it was actually envisioned as a miniseries, it may have worked better in that context; as it stands, the sprawling collection provides a kind of cinematic liner notes to the Coens’ homegrown aesthetic.


Image via Paramount Pictures

The Wrap chalks the film more up to a footnote in the Coens’ illustrious career:

“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” will be, at best, a charming footnote in the Coens’ career, a project they enjoyed doing, and possibly even more enjoyed turning into a film so they can keep their résumé free of episodic television. As Netflix binges go, it’s a pretty good one, but be ready to love some episodes more than others.

The most praise comes from The Guardian, which writes:

This is a handsomely made picture, with a richly plausible musical score by Carter Burwell; it is an old-school western in many ways and if there is something comic or self-satirising about it, this doesn’t mean it is pure pastiche. There is a commitment to the genre, although the sheer eerie starkness of what is shown has an ironising effect: tiny individual figures making their infinitesimal way through gigantic or iconic landscapes, tiny bars or banks marooned in the middle of the prairie, looming up like mirages. The settlers are always in danger from Native Americans, who are certainly represented as an alien presence – they don’t get a tale – but the white men and women are themselves mostly venal, pompous, greedy and violent.

No Netflix release date has been announced yet, but the movie is due for a limited theatrical release on November 16th.

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