*** ½ (out of 4)
In one way or another, most Westerns made in the last decade have sought to subvert the clichés and tropes that we typically associate with the genre. For instance, Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained (2012) and The Hateful Eight (2015) both foregrounded the oft-forgotten role that racism played in frontier life. Through their gruesome tales of survival, meanwhile, films like Meek’s Cutoff (Reichardt, 2010) and The Revenant (Iñárritu, 2015) countered the “Wow, I wish I lived in the West” feeling that you get when viewing the beautiful landscape shots in John Ford’s films. And earlier this fall, The Sisters Brothers (Audiard) dismantled the archetype of the “invincible gunman,” portraying sharpshooters who were anything but mighty heroes in the mold of Shane and Will Kane.
At first glance, the Coen brothers’ new anthology film, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, would appear to buck this genre-subverting trend.