The way The Ballad of Buster Scruggs subverts any type of label is a credit to the writing ability of the Coen Brothers. After 30 years of filmmaking, they have created an anthology film where every story feels unique.
Chapter one of this anthology is short and gets to its point quickly. We meet Scruggs (Tim Blake Nelson), whose singing and guitar playing is something to behold. Dressed in all white, the ‘good guy’, this chapter is filled with violence and gun-slinging, the Coens are clearly having fun and paying tribute to John Wayne, Clint Eastwood and the westerns of the past.
The people in the saloon around him are touchy, dangerous and aren’t impressed by Scrugg’s singing. The burst of violence that soon follows is amazing to watch. The script is flawless and is guaranteed to generate big laughs. A perfect example of this comes when Scrugg’s meets a fellow singing cowboy, this one dressed in all black.
The subsequent chapters slowly get longer as the real themes come into focus. These chapters are about life and death, and how the basic human instinct of fight or flight impacts the amount of violence is required to survive at all cost.
The Coen Brothers may be stepping into new territory with the anthology format, but the cinematography and script are instantly recognisable as their trademark style. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is a thoughtful, funny and emotional film that is certainly a step up from Hail, Caesar!.