'The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs' Early Buzz: The Coen Brothers Western Is Hilarious And Uneven

The Coen Brothers are back with The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. Originally planned as an anthology TV series, the Coens re-edited Buster into a film, which just debuted at the Venice Film Festival. Reviews of the Western comedy are flooding in, and they hint at a movie that will wow Coen Brothers fans, and possibly perplex everyone else. See the Ballad of Buster Scruggs early buzz below.

Over at The Guardian, Peter Bradshaw has high praise for Buster Scruggs, saying the film is a "hilarious, beautifully made, very enjoyable and rather disturbing anthology of stories from the old west," and adding:

This is a handsomely made picture, with a richly plausible musical score by Carter Burwell; it is an old-school western in many ways and if there is something comic or self-satirising about it, this doesn't mean it is pure pastiche. There is a commitment to the genre, although the sheer eerie starkness of what is shown has an ironising effect: tiny individual figures making their infinitesimal way through gigantic or iconic landscapes, tiny bars or banks marooned in the middle of the prairie, looming up like mirages. The settlers are always in danger from Native Americans, who are certainly represented as an alien presence – they don't get a tale – but the white men and women are themselves mostly venal, pompous, greedy and violent.

Variety's Owen Gleiberman says the movie is "all about the act of dying":

In "The Ballad of Buster Scruggs," life is nasty, brutish, and short, even for a number of the protagonists; the film's signature motif is people getting killed with one clean shot through the forehead. If that sounds like a vintage Coen vision, or maybe a vintage Coen joke, it is, but the Coens have always made death into a semi-philosophical jape. "The Ballad of Buster Scruggs" is a pop fantasia that's interested in the meaning of what a brutal place the Old West really was.

Stephanie Zacharek at Time writes that while the film contains the trademark Coen Brothers humor, there's also something somber about the film:

Though there are dashes of the Coens' trademark arch humor, most of The Ballad of Buster Scruggs isn't what you'd call a laugh riot. There's also something genuinely mournful about it; it leaves you feeling a little exposed, as if you'd been dropped, alone, into the wide-open prairie and weren't sure you wanted to be there. It's effective in a somber way, and as shot by cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel, it's dazzling to look at, a reinvention of classic literature of the old west with a storybook feel.

The Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy claims Buster is "Part sincere and part smarmy, part amusing and part windy nonsense", and thinks that the movie is a better fit for Netflix than movie theaters:

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs plays like an old Western-themed vaudeville show featuring six unrelated sketches of drastically differing quality. In other words, this little Western anthology is minor Coen Brothers, worth checking out on Netflix, which backed it, but of very limited potential theatrically.

IndieWire critic Eric Kohn comments that the latest Coen Brothers film "has some wonderful moments even as it drags", and goes on to say:

As the unseen reader finishes the book, "Buster Scruggs" leaves much to be desired, and little to justify its heft. Regardless of whether it was actually envisioned as a miniseries, it may have worked better in that context; as it stands, the sprawling collection provides a kind of cinematic liner notes to the Coens' homegrown aesthetic. Their unique style has been so deeply ingrained in popular culture that it's often taken for granted (or, with F/X's "Fargo" series, transformed into pastiche). "Buster Scruggs" is a singular illustration of what makes the Coen formula so appealing, and a reminder of so many better examples.

The Telegraph's Robbie Collin gives Buster Scruggs five out of five stars, showering praise on the movie:

Half-fish, half-fowl and altogether inspired, it is a dazzling mosey through the creeks and canyons of the Coenesque, whose scattershot format and by turns bizarre and macabre sense of humour belies a formal ingenuity and surgical control of tone that keeps the viewer perpetually off-guard.

ScreenDaily's Tim Grierson writes that the "delightfully protean Western anthology The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs presents audiences with just about every variation of the Coen brothers they might prefer", continuing on to say:

Ballad doesn't reinvent the Coens' sardonic, measured aesthetic, but the anthology's looser structure allows them a friskiness that is welcome.

The Wrap's review from Alonso Duralde isn't as positive, describing Buster Scruggs as "uneven", adding:

"The Ballad of Buster Scruggs" will be, at best, a charming footnote in the Coens' career, a project they enjoyed doing, and possibly even more enjoyed turning into a film so they can keep their résumé free of episodic television. As Netflix binges go, it's a pretty good one, but be ready to love some episodes more than others.

Jessica Kiang at The Playlist also thinks the film is a bit uneven, saying it presents "the best and worst of the Coens":

Originally rumored to be a TV project made over into a movie, but probably destined to wind up mostly on TV in some form or another, this wildly uneven, um, thing does not have enough connective tissue to make an overall review fair to its better bits while also pointing out the worse. So it's probably best to take them one by one, safe in the knowledge that posterity, when it watches "The Ballad of Buster Scruggs" will probably have a fast-forward button.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs will debut on Netflix and in select theaters November 16, 2018.