Film Review: The Ballad Of Buster Struggs

The Ballad Of Buster Struggs is six Coen stories in one film


Initially announced as a multi part TV series, the new Netflix backed Coen brothers film The Ballad Of Buster Struggs was eventually reshaped into a feature length anthology film about the old West, and will be released on the streaming service after a short theatrical run later this month.

Making its UK debut at the London Film Festival a few days ago, the movie presents six standalone portmanteau stories about the perils of the Wild West in a film which successfully highlights Joel and Ethan Coen’s inimitable blend of caustic wit, physical comedy and their continued love for all things old Hollywood.

Part One sees Coen favourite Tim Blake Nelson (O Brother, Where Art Thou?) as Buster Struggs, a singing cowboy in a spotless white ten gallon hat, attempting to make his way through a dangerously volatile Wild West with only his reputation as a fast shooter to go by. This section offers a brilliantly well executed pastiche of the deeply unfashionable “singing cowboy” genre which was first featured by the brothers in their 2016 film Hail, Caesar!

Liam Neeson cuts a lonely figure in the decidedly sombre section entitled Meal Ticket in which he stars as a monosyllabic travelling showman, who grows tired of looking after his costly cash cow, a disabled actor played by Harry Melling.

James Franco shines in Near Algodones, a story about an unlucky bank robber who can’t escape his destiny, while Zoe Kazan is hugely impressive in The Gal Who Got Rattled, a story about a well to do young woman trying to make her way in the West alone.

In All Gold Canyon, the inimitable Tom Waits stars as a conscientious, nature loving gold prospector, while Brendan Gleeson and Jonjo O’Neill offers two hilarious scenery-chewing performances in the brilliantly gothic The Mortal Remains, a story about two sinister bounty hunters trying to reach their destination by coach whilst scaring their travel companion stiff with their elaborately concocted stories.

Overall, The Ballad of Buster Struggs provides six hugely entertaining and deeply moving narratives which will make you wish you could spend more time with each story. Returning to what they know best, Joel and Ethan Coen have assembled a fantastically eclectic cast in this funny and at times deeply moving anthology. And while some of the stories might seem a little less engaging than others, on the whole the film benefits from its up and downs and most viewers will be won over by its deeply touching and brutally honest themes.

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive