Early Coens “Scruggs” Reviews Are Soft-Positive

Coens Rework Buster Scruggs Into A Film

Set to premiere on Netflix and in cinemas later this Fall, the Coen Brothers return to screens with “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” – what was a six-episode anthology series which they’ve instead re-assembled into a single feature film which has just had its world premiere in Venice.

Speaking from the fest, Joel Cohen has told Deadline that the project found a perfect home at Netflix, saying cinephiles should be championing the service for tackling films mainstream studios won’t do:

“The fact there are companies that are financing and making movies outside the mainstream is very important. It’s what keeps the art form alive. The more the merrier. Different ways are important. It’s healthier for the business.

A theatrical release was important to us, but they [Netflix] were happy to accommodate us. That might have been their plan from the beginning. It’s getting a theatrical release in the U.S. That’s great. It’s important that people who want to see it on the big screen are able to.”

With the theatrical release comes the chance for awards consideration for the film which has been assembled from material the pair have written over the last twenty-five years – short stories they didn’t know what to do with until they decided to do them all together. There is no single story thread tying the six separate chapters together, but there is a thematical link, and the first reviews have picked up on that.

Those reviews have been positive, but as is the nature of any anthology feature – some of the short stories are rapturously received, and some notably less so, how many and how much differing from critic to critic. All certainly praise the film’s technical merits though, but overall it doesn’t sound like this will be considered up there with some of their greats. Here’s a sampling of reviews:

“It is an anthology of six segments that comprises two that are as funny as any comedies the Coens have made, two that are as offbeat-involving as any of their more dramatic titles, and two that rank among the worst things they’ve done. Taken individually, there are cherishable moments and performances scattered throughout – but as a whole, the film has to be chalked down to a perplexingly minor addition to one of the most beloved cinematic canons of our time.” – Jessica Kiang, The Playlist

“The movie runs 135 minutes, and since the episodes are uneven in quality… you may feel, at moments, that it’s too much of a just-okay thing. Yet ‘The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,’ in its gnarly and ambling way, does justify its existence as a movie… the episodes are linked by a scabrous obsession with death that, in the end, adds up to something. Not something major, but a theme with a pinch of resonance. For those who go, it’s a Coen trifle — or, rather, six of them — that adds up to a trifle more.” – Owen Gleiberman, Variety

“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.” – Stephanie Zacharek, Time

“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.” – Robbie Collin, The Telegraph

“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” is currently slated to have a limited theatrical run and Netflix premiere on November 16th.