By Adam Ray Palmer
The Coen brothers are back with a bang, well six bangs actually. The siblings bring to the Venice Film Festival a western anthology movie.
Whilst the title eludes to a series of films revolving around one man ‘Buster Scruggs’, you actually get six short features with their own little tales.
This western anthology consists of six chapters that present a different story from the wild frontier. First up there is the aforementioned The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, then follows five legends titled: Near Algodones, Meal Ticket, All Gold Canyon, The Gal Who Got Rattled and The Mortal Remains.
Let’s begin at the top, and that has a double meaning. The Buster Scruggs tale is by far the best. It’s raucous, hilarious and fast-paced – it’s like a western musical. Tim Blake Nelson plays a sharp-shooting songster that has mad skills with a pistol and is a dab-hand at making rhymes too. The three songs in the 15-minute skit are witty, catchy and I need more. Please make a full version, Coen Bros!
Then we have Near Algodones, a wannabe bank robber (James Franco) gets his due and then some. He takes on a few cowboys, Native Americans and the local law in this film and loses every time. The mini movie again has some corking dialogue with zingers sticking in your head long after the credits – in true Coen style.
The next two, Meal Ticket (a gothic tale about two weary travelling performers) and All Gold Canyon (a story about a prospector mining for gold) are more on the drama side of the fence compared to the former two. Meal Ticket especially has a twisted finale that is difficult to swallow, while All Gold Canyon leads you down one path to then rewrite it at the end.
The final two are very reminiscent of some dark, mind-twisting Inside No.9 episodes. The Gal Who Got Rattled follows a woman who finds an unexpected promise of love, along with a dose of life’s cruel irony, on a wagon train across the prairies. Then, ghostly laughs haunt The Mortal Remains as a Lady rains judgment upon a motley crew of strangers undertaking a final carriage ride. Both these latter short films have an ending that Pemberton and Shearsmith would be proud of.
This western anthology serves better as mini episodes I think though, which was the original plan. It has quite a long run time at 135 minutes for Netflix (or for any film for that matter) and perhaps bite-sized chunky episodes would have been more intriguing to nip back to if and when you want to. I stand firm though on Buster Scruggs, the Coen brothers need to make a full film out of that tale. I need to know more about the cocky cowboy. Who’d have thought that the world has been missing a western musical?
Cineroom’s Rating: 3.5 stars (average)
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs – 5 stars
Near Algodones – 4 stars
Meal Ticket – 2.5 stars
All Gold Canyon – 2.5 stars
The Gal Who Got Rattled – 3 stars
The Mortal Remains – 3 stars
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is set to be released in the UK on Netflix on 16th November 2018 – certificate TBC