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The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs: This is the latest from Joel and Ethan Cohen is an anthology of six vignettes that relate various perspectives on the Old West in American. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, probably the funniest, tells the story of a feared gunslinger. In Near Algodones, James Franco robs a bank that sits literally in the middle of nowhere. In Meal Ticket, Liam Neeson drives a young thespian with no arms and no legs from town to town. Gold is the theme of All Gold Canyon. In The Girl Who Got Rattled, Zoe Kazan plays a young woman headed to Oregon to marry a friend of her brother’s. And, finally, in The Mortal Remains, five passengers (an Englishman, a Frenchman, an Irishman, a religious woman, and a trapper) with differing worldviews debate human nature on a trip via stagecoach to Fort Morgan. I loved the stories; they are all very different but are threaded together with Western themes of greed, adventure, justice, good-versus-evil, and the adventure into the unknown. Some are funny, especially the first, which is hilarious, but then the stories tackle more serious themes. Each vignette brings surprising richness and depth to the stories that have been culled from the hundreds of Western movies. There are some nods to other films and books; for example, the Mortal Remains feels like a perfect distillation of the wonderful book Lincoln in the Bardo. And in Near Algodones, I just could not help thinking about the phone booth in Napolean Dynamite when Franco’s character happens on the bank. The Cohen brothers are having their characteristic fun with visuals, dialog, and the combining of dark humor and seriousness. The cinematography is really beautiful – I watched this on Netflix and wished I had been able to see it on the big screen. Huge thumbs up for a very inventive film. If you enjoy Westerns, this is a really unusual one that you should see.

About Gary Burkholder

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