‘The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs’ Is The Ultimate Wild West Story
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is the latest in a long list of Coen brother movies. The film is a six-part anthology, each part being its own story with no connections to the others except that they are set in the wild west. Each story in the anthology deals with its own aspect of the wild west with every western cliché there is; there’s a sharpshooter, a bank robber, an entertainer, a gold prospector, travelers on the Oregon trail and an entertaining stagecoach ride.
The first story of the Anthology stars Tim Nelson as Buster Scruggs, the singing sharp shooter who may be jolly and nice but isn’t afraid to take down anyone who might oppose him. As the first story of the anthology it gives the film its namesake of The Ballad of Buster Scruggs as we follow him through the wild west into taverns and even see a few good ol’ fashion shootouts. Scruggs is shown to be an amazing shot as he is able to kill every character that insults him with ease. This is by far the funniest of the six stories, with a scene where he literally pats off a dust cloud that is in the shape of a human and another scene where he flies off to heaven while singing a duet with the man that he just had a shootout with.
The next story in the Anthology is about the dimwitted bank robber played by James Franco. The story is another one of the funnier ones as it features Franco’s character getting caught and sentenced to death, only to be freed by a passerby after the officers are killed by the classic western murderous Native Americans and then get sentenced to death again almost immediately after.
The third story is when the mood of the whole anthology changes from a comedy to more of a dark drama. The story is about an entertainer played by Liam Neeson, who takes care of a man with no arms or legs played by Harry Melling, in exchange for money Mellings character earns through dramatic readings of various pieces of literature, ranging from Lincolns famous speech, to poetry by Percy Shelley. This is one of the darkest of the six as it shows true nature about how cruel people can be, when Neeson’s character replaces Mellings’ with a chicken.
The fourth and calmest of the six stories is about an old gold prospector played by Tom Waits. In the story he searches for a pocket of gold that is somewhere in the ground that he refers to as Mr. Pocket. The story is different than the others since there is only one person interacting with the environment for most of the time. It is very refreshing to see a person engage with the western landscape and wildlife by talking to an owl when stealing a bird’s eggs or how throughout the entire story he continuously speaks to Mr. Pocket.
The fifth story is the longest of the six and takes place on the Oregon trail. When a woman named Ms. Longabaugh played by Zoe Kazan loses her brother to disease she speaks to Billy Knapp played Bill Heck for advice on the matter and the two become close. Knapp proposes to her and she says yes, but this anthology really shows us that nothing lasts forever, as some unforeseen events ruin everything.
In the sixth and final story the whole thing takes place in one stagecoach ride. This story is treated more like a horror than any other genre. The trapper played by Chelcie Ross believes that all people are alike because he was alone for most of his life, the rich woman played by Tyne Daly believed the types of people were only upright and sinning who believed love for everyone is the same because she was raised with money and to be a “proper” lady, and the Frenchman played by Saul Rubinek believed that everyone was different and the way they loved were too, as he explained he has learned this from his years of experience. However, as the ride goes on, they realize that the people who are taking them to their destination, are actually a special type of bounty hunters.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is a great film that represents every part of the wild west whether it’s a good ol’ standoff, searching for gold, or robbing banks. All of them however include the idea that death can come at any moment, and no one is immune to it. The Coen Brothers really out did themselves with this anthology as it really shows us what the wild west was all about and how dangerous it really was. Even with such a serious theme, it’s still incredibly enjoyable to watch.