It seems that lately, every time I’m sure I’ve found a good movie on Netflix (by my taste) that opinion will not be shared by my beloved, once we depart into the cinematographic experience. Maybe it’s the fact that I had to watch many “school movies” as a student, back when I was studying movie directing and that’s why I’m always ready to choose very visual films, with a good cast and mostly directed by well know guys, that have started and are developing their own way. The issue with that kind of movies is that it’s not necessarily the “Netflix and chill” kind. It’s more of the “Netflix but pay attention” type, being ready to watch it with a pinch of openness towards the theatrical aspects and the artistic frames in the movie.
That was the case with “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” by the Coen brothers too.
I was in the market for some intelligent western movie because of my time spent with “Red Dead Redemption 2”. That game became an even bigger obsession than the whole series of “Assassin’s Creed” for me so when it came into the “featured” area on Netflix dashboard it was only a matter of deciding that I’m gonna watch it. Directed by Coen brothers was the small weight that tilted the scale in its favour.
As the majority of their movies, this one is also based on a collection of written stories of Joel and Ethan. And again as in the majority of their movies this one also stands out through actors performance, with a cast that, in part, we have met before acting under their brand. Of course, Tim Blake Nelson is playing and the “aroma” of classic westerns that his spreading since the beginning takes us a little back to “O brother, where art thou?”.
The movie is an evolving one and not taking into account that it is written as a collection of multiple stories, it has its own, background narrative meaning. I guess that the first story was put there in order to pass a test that you will pass only if you are the right kind of audience.
What I love about all the Coen brothers’ movies is the fact that almost every main frame, when changing the scenery, is a mindblowing composition, recreated in very fine detail from the author’s imagination, a visual travel into their funny or sick world. “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” is a story that moves from absurd to emotional, depicting real case scenarios that for sure happened, one way or another, in the wild west. At the end of the movie I personally thanked myself for keep going on and force myself to the end after the first story in the “ballad book”.
My girlfriend, on the other hand, couldn’t. On the other hand, she didn’t see “The Great Lebowski” or even “Ladykillers” which wouldn’t really qualify her for “the right audience” I mentioned above.
The stories in the movie are not connected in any way apart from the fact that the scenography in each of them is exquisite and, being part of the old generation, the Cohen brothers didn’t go for much CGI. They stayed on the walked path of moving to different locations around America and not only, shooting during different times of the day and overall having a pain in their ass with this movie… as they later stated.
Even trailers and wagons were specially constructed for the sets and they used real live horses and oxen. I know… some things that hardly come by as a director/producer decision during these days. Computer Animation is much easier and requires less effort. And money.
Costumes are also handmade and that aspect can also be seen in the pictures, giving the characters authority and authenticity down to the bone. Of course, the shooting style of the movie, with a little bit exaggerated chromatic and generally good-looking places, it’s a little bit in contrast to the mud and dirt that the Wild West must have been.
Well, the Cohen brothers, in spite of their age, decided to shoot the majority if the movie old style. And you can see that while each of the typical landscapes develop with each changing scene. This freedom gave them also access to very personal shooting points and the movie doesn’t lack at all scenes starting totally abruptly, with the camera shooting from a point of view you would’ve hardly thought about.
That’s Cohen brothers, a’right!
Now I won’t go giving much more spoilers than I did… and I really kept myself under control as I would love to debate in writing almost every composition in this movie, but I feel that whoever is interested in visually vivid scenes should check this one out. As in the Cohen brothers’ style, all the movie is sprinkled with dark humour, unexpected situation or characters, unexpected reactions and framing, gruesome reality and absurd emotiveness.
If you like the Cohen brothers’ movie, this is a “must see”.
I wouldn’t recomment it as the movie with which to ease in the introduction to this kind. It’s not easy to digest, especially in the beginning.
But the damn compositions that it creates throughout the whole film makes it worth it.
Dark, cynical, absurd, three keywords that would suit it.