The Coen’s latest is a slam dunk.

(Time Magazine)

Netflix seems to be aiming for some Academy nominations this year (which I guess would legitimize them as a production company) and they got the rights for the new Coen brothers’ film. Ballad is a six-part film collection that ranges from the funny to the tragic, and silly to philosophical.

The Coens are perhaps some of the most versatile directors out there, and in some ways this collection almost feels like them showing off. I’m not going to go into each separate tale in detail, but it is likely that everyone will prefer some over others.

The first tale (The Ballad of Buster Scruggs) is quite funny, and mixes over-the-top oddities with fun music and ridiculous situations. It is certainly the funniest of the bunch, but is also the stand-out tone wise from the rest. (The rest seem at least moderately grounded in reality). On the one hand, the start is the only place where this one belongs, but on the other: folks wanting more of this might be disappointed.

While every story is strong, they don’t all necessarily mesh together perfectly. We also have them going in reverse length order (at least it felt that way to me), so the stories tend to get longer. Personally, the opener and closer were the most enjoyable. At a more than 2 hour running time this one might be intimidating (not to mention the varied quality of film anthologies), but it is worth the watch.

Where the Coens succeed is characters. All of their films have interesting people interacting in interesting environments. This film is no exception, and we almost immediately get a sense of who these people are. The masterful character building makes each entry stand out, and this might be the first anthology film I have seen that does not have a weak link.

We also get a lot of diverse environments and stories. Little things like color filters change, and this gives each short a truly unique feel. Overall, this is an example of talented filmmakers making good film.

I don’t have any direct complaints. However, after a couple days (a little delayed in writing this) some of the middle stories more or less vanished for me. While none were bad, some are a little less memorable. Pulling six perfect stories off is probably impossible, but the Coens came closer than I have seen before.

Fans of the Coens will love it, and we do kind of have a best-of feel here. Overall, worth a watch.

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