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Movie Review: “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs”

There are many movies that are worth seeing, but there are a lot of stinkers as well. My goal here is to weed out the good from the bad.

Netflix Release: 11/9/2018

Netflix Release: 11/9/2018

Synopsis

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is a collection of six stories. Each story is set in the Wild West and features a variety of characters doing a variety of different things. The first story tells the tale of Buster Scruggs (Tim Blake Nelson), an outlaw gunslinger with a passion for song. This is the titular story, but there are many more tales to be told from the Wild West.

There is the tale of an attempted bank robbery gone wrong, and there is the tale of a traveling entrepreneurial entertainer. There is also the tale of an old man searching for gold, and a tale of a young woman traveling west from her family. Finally there is the tale of a group of people sharing a stagecoach and exchanging stories. Each story has a different set of characters doing different things, but it is important to remember that no tale is a safe tale when set in the Wild West.

Official Trailer

The Pros & Cons

All movies start with an average score of 75pts, points are then added or subtracted based on each Pro and Con. Each Pro or Con is designated points, ranging from 0-10, to convey how significant these Pros or Cons are.

The ProsThe Cons

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (+3pts)

Meal Ticket (-4pts)

Near Algodones & All Gold Canyon (+6pts)

The Mortal Remains (-3pts)

The Gal Who Got Rattled (+6pts)

Too Many, Too Short (-5pts)

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Pro: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (+3pts)

This was a fairly light-hearted, silly story set in the Wild West. There were a lot of kills in this one, but the tone was always light. What I thought worked so well about this story, was that it was a great way to ease the viewer into the Wild West vibe, going into following five stories. I thought the ending was as incredibly predictable, but due to the silliness of this story, I thought it worked. Was it an amazing short story? No, but Tim Blake Nelson was entertaining as Buster Scruggs, the plot was simple, and the story got me in a Wild West mood, and it left me excited for the next one. With that respect, it was a decent way to kickoff this movie.

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Con: Meal Ticket (-4pts)

This story had potential, but I thought it ended up killing a lot of the movie’s momentum. "Meal Ticket" was the third short story, and it told the tale of an entrepreneurial entertainer (Liam Neeson) who traveled with an amputee actor (Harry Melling). The amputee had no arms and no legs, but he had a gift for acting. The entrepreneur took care of the actor, but the two had a far from friendly relationship.

It was as if the entrepreneur viewed the actor as a pet or an item that only existed to make him money. It was an interesting relationship, but it did not seem like the filmmakers wanted to explore it. This may have been due to the fact that this was a short story, so the filmmakers did not have enough time to dive deeper into this relationship but unfortunately, the reason for this did not really matter. The result was a shallow story that did not live up to its potential. This was made worse by the fact that there was no dialogue—except for the scenes in which the actor was performing on stage—which made the story feel slow and uneventful.

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Pro: Near Algodones & All Gold Canyon (+6pts)

These two stories were ones that I enjoyed quite a bit. The first was titled “Near Algodones” and it told the tale of a man trying to rob a bank, only for his plan to go horribly wrong. The bank robber was played by James Franco, and he had his plan foiled in a pretty unexpected way. It was pretty crazy and entertaining to watch, but I thought the story went downhill from there. We got to see how his story played out after the attempted robbery, and while it was not as exciting as the robbery itself, I was fortunately still mildly entertained.

The next story was titled “All Gold Canyon” and told the tale of an old man obsessing over trying to find gold. The set for this story was visually stunning and the old man was a captivating character. It was cool to see the process he used to find gold, as well as how the obsession had taken a hold of him. The story even had a twist toward the end that I definitely did not expect. This story was short and sweet. It had a simple plot, but it was both fun and interesting.

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Con: The Mortal Remains (-3pts)

While “Meal Ticket” had too little dialogue, “The Mortal Remains” had too much. This story was all dialogue and it was a pretty anti-climactic story to end the movie with. It was the tale of a group of people sharing a stagecoach and trading stories with one another. It was quite the diverse group—with respect to their lifestyles—so they each had their own unique story to tell, but it was just so dialogue heavy. This, mixed with the accents, made it hard for me to focus on or care about what the characters were saying. The performances were solid, but there was not enough time to develop any of these characters, which made it a boring story about characters I did not care about. Closing the movie with such an uneventful story like this one was kind of a let down.

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The Gal Who Got Rattled (+6pts)

This was easily my favorite story in the movie. It was a bit slow in the beginning, but it kept getting more and more interesting until it delivered an exciting climax that had me on the edge of my seat. This story was about a woman and her brother who were traveling with a convoy. Her brother passed away, so she looked to one of the men leading the convoy for help.

I liked that the plot and the tone felt like a true western story. The characters were also developed properly, so I actually cared about them. They were easy characters to relate to, the performers maintained my interest, and the climax was unexpected in the best way. The climax was raw, intense, tragic, and everything else you hope for in a western story's climax. I liked a lot of the stories in this movie, but this was definitely my favorite.

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Con: Too Many, Too Short (-5pts)

As is usually an issue with collection movies like this one, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs suffered a bit by having too many stories. Rather than tell three or four short stories with enough time to fully flesh them out, the filmmakers decided to cram six stories into a single two-hour period. What was so bizarre about this choice, was that it was Netflix who made the movie, which makes me wonder why they did not simply make a six episode limited series. Doing it that way would have given them plenty of screen time to do these short stories right. I did not hate the movie, but I thought even the stories I liked could have benefited from being fleshed out more. If the filmmakers absolutely needed to make a movie instead of a limited series, they probably should have cut a couple of stories out in order to better serve the others.

Grading Scale

GradeCategoryPoints

A+

Amazing

95-100

A-

Great

90-94

B+

Good

85-89

B-

Decent

80-84

C+

Average

75-79

C-

Watchable

70-74

D+

Bad

65-69

D-

Terrible

60-64

F

Garbage

45-59

movie-review-the-ballad-of-buster-scruggs

Grade: C+ (78pts)

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs was a movie that I went into with little expectations. It was not that I had low expectations, I just did not have any whatsoever, but I always enjoy a good western story, so I decided to give it a shot. It was a collection of six short stories, and while two of the stories left a lot to be desired, the remaining four were pretty good for what they were. There were a couple stories I liked, a couple I disliked, and one that I liked a lot. The ones that I did not like seemed to suffer from not having enough screen time to develop the story or the characters properly. That being said, if you like a good western story like I do, then you will enjoy some of these. Just do not expect to like all six, because some of them definitely needed work.

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