Post-True Grit Coen Brothers: “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs”

Six Western stories make up the new Netflix film by Joel and Ethan CoenThe Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)—and in toto it is terrific.  My favorite is probably the touching, beautifully acted “The Gal Who Got Rattled” starring Zoe Kazan as a nice young woman in a heap of trouble.  It is rather less odd than some of the other stories but no less entertaining than the farcical title story or the one (“Near Algodones”) wherein James Franco enacts a crook consistently on the precipice of capital punishment.

The Coens’ tales are penny dreadfuls in which they often double down on Western mythology (Tim Blake Nelson‘s gunslinger, the shooting of Tom Waits‘s prospector).  Mythology, yes, but violence is still violence.  It abounds here:  the violence that brings about death.  When the film isn’t funny, it is deeply unsettling, and has a No Country for Old Men harshness.  I nervously enjoyed it.

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