“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” disappoints

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“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” disappoints

Sydney Booth, Editor-in-chief

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“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” is a recently released Netflix original that takes place in the post-Civil War era of the Old West. Rotten Tomatoes gave the movie a whopping 92 percent rating, and 91 percent of Google users reported that they liked the movie. However, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs was unremarkable, featuring little to no action and a plot with no rhyme or reason.

Composed of six short stories, the storyline made several swift jumps from humor or general neutrality to dark, morbid anthologies. “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” is two hours of utterly pointless Western scenes that accomplish nothing in the grand scheme of the movie. Watching all 135 minutes of the movie felt like binge-watching an unfulfilling series.

Although the film features many powerhouse actors such as James Franco, Tim Blake Nelson, and Liam Neeson, their characters were undermined by the poor structure of the film.

Each story begins with the turning of a page from what seems like a children’s book from the 40’s. The first and second short stories set the stage for what seemed to be a comedy, but the other stories took more serious turns with much larger running times. In fact, each short story ended in death of one of the main characters.

One short story in particular was the downfall of the entire film. In the segment, Liam Neeson was an unnamed traveling entrepreneur. Neeson’s character made money off of an armless, legless man who recited poetry and various items from literature. The man was completely dependent on Neeson’s character and performed the same show every single night for money. As if the premise of selling the limbless man in the form of theatrical events was not morbid enough, the story ends with the implication that Neeson’s character killed the limbless man by throwing him into a gulch. However, viewers have to sit through too many of the limbless man’s performances before he is tossed off the road.

The only thing the movie has going for it is beautifully shot scenery and an antique Western feel. One of the short stories features a gold miner working for days on end in a gorgeous valley, and another has great views of the mountains. Just about everything else disappoints.                            

In the end, all of the deaths amount to a pinch of a theme with a sprinkle of resonance: the act of dying and startling heartlessness. Frankly, “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” is two hours one will never get back. Time spent on Netflix would be more worthwhile watching just about anything else in the Western category.