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Film review: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is dark, stylish and wickedly funny

PUBLISHED: 08:34 19 November 2018 | UPDATED: 08:34 19 November 2018

The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs. Pictured: Zoe Kazan as Alice Longabaugh, Bill Heck as Billy Knapp. See PA Feature SHOWBIZ Film Kazan. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Netflix. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature SHOWBIZ Film Kazan.

The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs. Pictured: Zoe Kazan as Alice Longabaugh, Bill Heck as Billy Knapp. See PA Feature SHOWBIZ Film Kazan. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Netflix. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature SHOWBIZ Film Kazan.

Take a look at our review of The Ballard of Buster Scruggs which is in select cinemas and on Netflix.

‘The western is dead’ it is a phrase that the genre, despite its frequent resurgence with the likes of The Hateful Eight and Hostiles has never escaped. Joel and Ethan Coen’s sumptuous latest feature is another film that proves the western is far from dead.

Split into six anthological chapters, we see Tim Blake Nelson’s titular, rictus-grinning, warbling gunslinger wreak bloody havoc across the west in ‘The Ballad of Buster Scruggs’.

James Franco’s hapless outlaw getting his comeuppance in ‘Near Algodones’, Liam Neeson’s weary impresario and Harry Melling’s quadruple amputee performer travelling through unimpressed towns in ‘Meal Ticket.

Then Tom Waits’ dogged prospector earnestly searching for gold in ‘All Gold Canyon’, Zoe Kazan’s prospective wife taking a fateful wagon train journey in ‘The Gal Who Got Rattled’ and a group of strangers taking a final carriage ride in ‘The Mortal Remains.’

The Coen brothers dexterously handle the different tones of their western anthology, with the quietly devastating ‘Meal Ticket’ and the tragi-comic ‘Near Algodones’ serving as effective counterpoints to the ultra-violent, Looney Toonsesque humour of ‘The Ballad of Buster Scruggs’ and the upbeat ‘All Gold Canyon’.

While not all the segments entirely work – ‘The Gal who Got Rattled’ is prone to languor - they are held to together by universally superb performances. Nelson and an almost unrecognizable Waits are particularly great and Neeson turns in an impressively nuanced, near silent performance.

Dark, stylish and wickedly funny, the Coen’s latest is a magnificent, loving paean to the western genre.

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