The Coen Brothers' The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is now a western anthology film rather than a limited series, as originally intended. Netflix is planning to give the movie an awards season push by releasing it in select theaters (for Oscars qualification), before it debuts on the streaming service later this year.
Written/directed by the Coens, Ballad of Buster Scruggs previously encompassed six segments originally conceived as individual TV episodes. Those segments include “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs”, starring Tim Blake Nelson as (Wanted) singing cowboy Buster Scruggs; “Near Algodones”, a story about a high-plains drifter who struggles to succeed as either a cattle driver or bank robber; “Meal Ticket”, which revolves around the members of a traveling show; “All Gold Canyon”, a tale about a prospector who finds gold, but must ward off an encroacher; “The Gal Who Got Rattled", a segment about two trail bosses and a woman who cross paths while traveling the Oregon Trail; and “The Mortal Remains", a story about five passengers on a stagecoach. All six chapters will now make up a 2-3 hour long Netflix movie, having been acquired by the company last year.
According to Variety, Ballad of Buster Scruggs will still maintain a chaptered anthology narrative structure, even now that it's a movie rather than a TV series. The site further unveiled the first official image from the film, along with the following statement on the subject from the Coens (which includes more than a touch of the filmmakers' trademark humor):
“We’ve always loved anthology movies, especially those films made in Italy in the Sixties which set side-by-side the work of different directors on a common theme. Having written an anthology of Western stories we attempted to do the same, hoping to enlist the best directors working today. It was our great fortune that they both agreed to participate.”
In addition to Nelson, who famously starred in the Coens' Odyssey-inspired comedy O'Brother, Where Art Thou?, the Ballad of Buster Scruggs cast includes James Franco, Liam Neeson, Zoe Kazan, Tom Waits, and Brendon Gleeson, among other noteworthy character actors. Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the camera, the movie reunites the Coens with creatives like composer Carter Burwell and costume designer Mary Zophres, both of whom most recently collaborated with the filmmakers on their 1950s Hollywood musical satire, Hail, Caesar!. Ballad of Buster Scruggs is further the Coens' first digitally photographed feature and was shot by their Inside Llewyn Davis cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel.
Netflix has also revealed that it will premiere Ballad of Buster Scruggs in-competition at the 2018 Venice Film Festival, which gets underway next month. All in all, the film sounds like yet another intriguingly unconventional Coen Bros. creation, and is primed to properly shake up the impending film awards season race, when it arrives. As the first western the storytellers have released since their acclaimed True Grit remake eight years ago, Ballad of Buster Scruggs should further allow the Coens to revisit and expand upon themes from their previous ventures into the genre - while at the same time, inducting even more shifty and/or idiosyncratic characters into their larger catalog of work.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs does not have an official release date yet.