Essentially, it’s a collection of six Western stories compiled in one anthology film. Originally intended as a Netflix series, the project was later reworked into a 132-minute feature-length movie, albeit one that retains its anthology structure.
Ethan Coen told reporters at this year’s Venice Film Festival: “Theatrical release was important to us, and [Venice] were happy to accommodate us. And I don’t even know if it was to accommodate us or their plans coincided with ours… It’s important to us that people who want to see it on a big screen are able to.”
The individual tales collectively bring us a dust-strewn, violent and darkly comic look at the American frontier. The various stories introduce us to a host of miscreants and oddballs, including the eponymous shooter-singer, vengeance-seeking cowboys and greedy prospectors.
Who stars in it?
A whole host of big names have lined up to star in the Coens’ latest. Regular collaborator Tim Blake Nelson (who appeared in the delightful O Brother, Where Art Thou?) leads as the titular Buster Scruggs, with A-list support in the form of Taken’s Liam Neeson, singer Tom Waits, The Disaster Artist’s James Franco, Paddington 2’s Brendan Gleeson and The Witch’s Ralph Ineson.
Meanwhile, behind the camera there’s input from Coen regulars like composer Carter Burwell, cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel, production designer Jess Gonchor and costume designer Mary Zophres.
What was the inspiration behind the movie?
The Coens have demonstrated a love of the Western in its various forms throughout their career. This includes the nihilistic terror of No Country for Old Men, a look at how violence has corrupted the 20th century American frontier, and the nostalgic remake of John Wayne classic True Grit, starring a grizzled Jeff Bridges.
Buster Scruggs finds them in characteristic form, lacing the story with off-kilter humour and shocking moments of explosive violence.
In a typically wry, ‘Coen-esque’ statement (via Variety), they expressed their affection for the genre: “We’ve always loved anthology movies, especially those films made in Italy in the Sixties which set side-by-side the work of different directors on a common theme. Having written an anthology of Western stories we attempted to do the same, hoping to enlist the best directors working today. It was our great fortune that they both agreed to participate.”
What have the critics been saying?
The movie opened this year’s Venice Film Festival with its world premiere (where it also won the Best Screenplay award), and has been generating Oscar buzz. (It’s also played at the 2018 New York and London Film Festivals.)
“Richly entertaining and blackly funny but told with sincerity and heart, the half-dozen Western tales packed into The Ballad of Buster Scruggs show the Coen brothers loading up their six-shooter and firing barely a blank,” raves Phil De Semlyen in Time Out.
“Half-fish, half-fowl and altogether inspired, it is a dazzling mosey through the creeks and canyons of the Coen-esque, whose scattershot format and by turns bizarre and macabre sense of humour belie a formal ingenuity and surgical control of tone that keep the viewer perpetually off-guard,” writes The Telegraph’s Robbie Collin.
And The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw is another fan: “The Coens have given us a hilarious, beautifully made, very enjoyable and rather disturbing anthology of stories from the old west, once planned for television but satisfyingly repurposed for the cinema: vignettes that switch with stunning force from picturesque sentimentality to grisly violence.”
When is it released?
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs rides onto Netflix on 16th November.