Home #Hwoodtimes THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS: A Bad Day At Black Rock (and...

THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS: A Bad Day At Black Rock (and Elsewhere)

By Ethlie Ann Vare

Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 11/14/18 –  “Nasty, brutish and short.” That’s how philosopher Thomas Hobbes described life without good social order, back in 1651. It also pretty much sums up life in the American West in the late 1800’s, according to the latest Coen Brothers latest movie, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.

Joel and Ethan Coen arrived at the premiere of “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs “

Of course, calling this a movie at all is a reach. It’s a collection of six short stories – vignettes starring different people and set in different locales, tied together by a fictional book of the same title whose chapters and color plates introduce each story. It was not, as some have said, intended as a TV series and compiled into one film. “There was some press about that,” said co-writer/co-director Joel Coen at a recent Writers Guild screening. “It’s actually not true.”

These are in fact mini-scripts the brothers began more than a decade ago. “We wrote them for fun and put them in a drawer,” said Ethan.

Tim Blake Nelson

You have Tim Blake Nelson as a white-hatted (but not heroic) singing cowboy, James Franco as an unlucky bank robber, Liam Neeson as a traveling showman with a tragic star attraction, Zoe Kazan as a single woman on a fragile wagon train heading west, Tom Waits as a solitary prospector, and Brendan Gleeson as a bounty hunter aboard a claustrophobic stagecoach. Please note terms like “unlucky,” “tragic,” “solitary,” “fragile,” “claustrophobic”…. yes, this is the Coen Brothers so there’s a lot of humor. But it is black humor, dark as midnight and you may hate yourself for laughing. Even the token dog is an unpleasant yapper.

Thanks to cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel (“Inside Llewyn Davis,” “Amelie”), this post-Civil War west is a magnificent panorama, vast and untouched by civilization. That alone gives the movie a dark pessimism, as we know those lands are now being strip-mined and logged to oblivion. You’d want to go back and live there if it weren’t for the occupants. Music by Carter Burwell is, as always, glorious. But there is nothing glorious about the humans. The Coens’ people are selfish and shortsighted; their life is hard, and dirty, and violent.

Performances are universally stellar, especially unexpected ones like Chelcie Ross (Mad Men) as a talkative fur trapper, Bill Heck (The Alienist) as a stalwart wagonmaster, and Harry Melling (Harry Potter) as an armless, legless orator with no words of his own. Nothing is more fun that Tim Blake Nelson’s gunslinger, of course – but then, the movie pretty much stops being fun altogether when Nelson leaves the stage.

There’s a lot going on in The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, and it’s going to live with me for a long time. I kinda wish it wouldn’t. I get depressed enough as it is.

Directed By:    Joel Coen, Ethan Coen

Written By:      Ethan Coen, Joel Coen

Starring: Tim Blake Nelson, Liam Neeson, James Franco, Zoe Kazan. Brendan Gleeson, Tom Waits

In Theaters:    Nov 9, 2018  (Limited)


Streaming:       Nov 16, 2018

Runtime:          132 minutes

Studio:               Netflix

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Valerie Milano is the well-connected Senior Editor and Entertainment Critic at TheHollywoodTimes.today, a website that aggregates showbiz news curated for, and written by, insiders of the entertainment industry. (@HwoodTimes @TheHollywood.Times) Milano, whose extraordinary talents for networking in the famously tight-clad enclave of Hollywood have placed her at the center of the industry’s top red carpets and events since 1984, heads daily operations of a uniquely accessible, yet carefully targeted publication. For years, Milano sat on the board and tour coordinator of the Television Critics Association’s press tours. She has written for Communications Daily, Discover Hollywood, Hollywood Today, Television International, and Video Age International, and contributed to countless other magazines and digests. Valerie works closely with the Human Rights Campaign as a distinguished Fed Club Council Member. She also works with GLSEN, GLAAD, Outfest, NCLR, LAMBDA Legal, and DAP Health, in addition to donating both time and finances to high-profile nonprofits. She has been a member of the Los Angeles Press Club for a couple of years and looks forward to the possibility of contributing to the future success of its endeavors. Milano’s passion for meeting people extends from Los Feliz to her favorite getaway, Palm Springs. There, she is a member of the Palm Springs Museum of Art and a prominent Old Las Palmas-area patron.