“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” Is Wild-West Noir

The Coen Brothers’ six-part film on Netflix reminds us to appreciate the present

Tim Blake Nelson as fast-drawing, sweet-talking Buster Scruggs

Courtesy of Netflix

Anyone yearning for the “good old days” will be set violently straight by a viewing of The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. The latest film from Minnesota natives Joel and Ethan Coen is broken into six highly bingeable short stories parading the faces of our country’s oft-sordid history.

The anthology’s ensemble cast includes James Franco, Zoe Kazan, Liam Neeson, Tom Waits, Tim Blake Nelson, and a wealth of able actors playing settlers, prospectors, traveling performers, and a spectrum of 19th-century cheats, gunslingers, and backstabbing sinners.

The stories mix humorous gags and hyperbolic tragedy. As the fast-drawing, sweet-talking outlaw Buster Scruggs in the titular tale, Nelson (below) is disturbingly easy to root for despite his deadly aim.

Kazan’s understated intensity in “The Gal Who Got Rattled” vignette and Tom Waits digging for riches in “All Gold Canyon” both invite multiple rewatches—even after you know the startling plot twists.

These yarns from the bad old days are all beautifully shot and will look pristine from your couch on a cold winter night—a reason to revel in the present.