It’s the Law of the West…

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Film. In The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, the Coen brothers seek to capture the soul of the western. But to do what ?

By Jacques Braunstein

Funny project that the new fiction of the Coen brothers. Producer-producers Barton Fink and The Big Lebowski offer an anthology of short westerns on Netflix. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs carried by a host of prominent actors often playing against type as James Franco, Liam Nesson, Tom Waits or Brendan Gleeson…

Bank attack, diligence, gunfight, gold digger, and even western singing, everything goes by

Neither really a film, nor quite a series, but a series of six stories of unequal lengths that revisit the western and even the different forms of westerns. Bank attack, diligence, gunfight, gold digger, and even western singing, everything happens… Each segment is an opportunity to show us the virtuosity of the filmmakers and the variety of their style. But this is not surprising since they have the contemporary western No Country for Old Men (2007) and the burlesque western True Grit (2010). And a number of their other films borrowed from the founding genre of American cinema, from Raising Arizona to O’Brother, Where Art Thou? via Fargo. This probably explains why Netflix trusted them without the project being fully successful.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs sins by a form of nihilism laughing and a little repetitive that ends most often with a bullet in the head. Quentin Tarantino’s gratuitous violence has been widely criticized, but this film raises the question of Brother Coen’s. In Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight (as in the recent Sisters’ brothers by Jacques Audiard), violence is at the service of a talk about greed and the racism on which America was built.

Here not really. “It’s the Law of the West…” seems to be the only lesson to be learned from this series of vignettes whose black humor ended up boring. The segment, The Gal Who Got Rattled is the most dense in terms of narration and feelings. In a beautifully filmed meadow, a love story between Zoé Kazan and Bill Heck is formed in a convoy of pioneers. But she knows an absurd epilogue, after the repetition of the reason for the Indian attack already exploited earlier. There is every reason to believe that if The Ballad of Buster Scuggs is a sketch movie and not a show, it’s because the viewer would not have watched the next episode.