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Review: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Finally catching up on some movies that I didn’t have the energy to enjoy while I was working full-time, starting with The Ballad of Buster Scruggs on Netflix. Joel and Ethan Coen have helmed their fair share of Westerns (from the unapologetically unconventional No Country for Old Men to their more traditional adaptation of True Grit), but this anthology film serves as their definitive statement on the genre, traversing as many tones and styles (the eponymous white-clad crooner appears to have moseyed straight out of a cheesy ‘50s prairie musical, while James Franco’s amoral bank robber would look right at home in the gritty, violent world of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly) as it does frontier landscapes (from barren deserts to snow-capped mountains to lush, verdant valleys). But the episodes that comprise the movie’s narrative are far from disjointed: they’re thematically unified by the directing duo’s trademark cynicism and nihilism—their plots dance in circles before petering out into deliberate anticlimaxes, protagonists and antagonists alike (terms like “hero” and “villain” don’t truly apply in the brothers’ body of work) die abruptly and unceremoniously, and the overall atmosphere is permeated by an overwhelming sense of hopelessness and meaninglessness.

In short, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is quintessentially Coen: definitely not for everybody, but mandatory viewing for avid fans.

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