Tuesday, 16 October 2018

LFF 2018: The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs
& The Old Man & The Gun

The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs
dir. Joel Coen & Ethan Coen, USA, 2018
For the first twenty minutes or so of The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs - the Coen brothers' anthology film of six tales of the American frontier (with colour plates) - I was in absolute heaven. Tim Blake Nelson's titular cowboy, as adept at singin' as he is at gunslingin', rattles off the kind of classic Coens dialogue that makes your ears melt, while providing some of the most violence-derived lols I've had in a cinema since I don't know when. But this is just the first story: an amuse-bouche to whet the appetite for a tasting menu of considerably darker shaggy dog stories. For me, nothing else matched up to that opening blast of blood-spattered fun, but there's still plenty of beautifully grim western wonder here to wrap your undeserving eyes around.

Largely fixated on the wavering value of human life in the formative era of the United States (and therefore inextricably linked to the current era of the United States), The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs also takes in such themes as art vs commerce, the natural beauty of the untouched land (and its destruction for the sake of financial gain) and the good old futility of humanity against unpredictable cosmic machinations that drives some of the Coens' best work. Some of it is, I'm afraid, quite dull, but there's always the stunning cinematography of Bruno Delbonnel to admire, not to mention the shock and awe you may experience if, like me, you had no idea that that one character was played by Dudley Dursley from Harry Potter until you looked it up later when you were in Sainsbury's and nearly passed out from disbelief. Anyway I gave each story a star rating out of five and divided the total by six, and the result was 3.66 recurring, so make of that what you will.

The Old Man & The Gun
dir. David Lowery, USA, 2018
Set in 1981, and perhaps the only modern film to genuinely look like it was made and released in 1981, The Old Man & The Gun sees a twinkly-eyed Robert Redford calling time on his acting career by politely robbing a few banks and sweeping Sissy Spacek off her feet with his improbably-coloured thick mop of hair. It's a warm, cosy film without much incident - Casey Affleck's determined cop is a cliché, but is never allowed enough screen time to bother either Redford or the audience - and Daniel Hart's smooth, smoky jazz score carries it along on a wave of easygoing cool.

As Redford's career criminal looks back on a life spent doing jobs for no other reason than he simply enjoyed doing them - it just so happens they also brought him buckets of cash - the parallels with the actor's own life are unavoidable. But director David Lowery never lets his script get too clever-clever or his star too knowing, and the result is a low-key but fitting epilogue for Redford that would make a good double bill with Widows as another, albeit gentler, twist on the crime-caper-heist-movie.

No comments :

Post a Comment