(Netflix Streaming, September 2019) Trust the Coen Brothers to go back to the western genre and make it feel fresh again. An anthology of six unconnected short films, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs blends genres and approaches to come up with something quite a bit better than a list of ingredients may suggest. Things get off to a roaring start with “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” in which a sharpshooting singing cowboy benefits from cartoon physics and a sociopathic disregard for decency to deliver an exhilarating look at familiar western tropes. It’s disturbingly gory and yet easily the funniest of the segments—go figure. This is followed by the just-as-mean-spirited “Near Algodones,” featuring a bank robber who gets richly punished again and again. Farther away from Monument Valley, “Meal Ticket” is a far more sombre affair featuring a limbless performer and a misanthropic impresario. The sole upbeat segment of the film, “All Gold Canyon,” is a near-procedural look at a gold prospector stumbling upon a gold deposit in an unspoiled valley. “The Gal Who Got Rattled” starts off on a good note as a woman embarks on a wagon train journey to Oregon, but things quickly turn sour as they have a tendency to do throughout the entire film. Finally, “The Mortal Remains” lands us in fantastical territory as a stagecoach ride is probably a metaphor for another kind of passage. All stories are unified by downbeat endings, superb cinematography and the Coen’s usual gift for screenwriting. While some segments seem to end on sour or even inconclusive notes, the film feels far more satisfying than countless other films where most of the protagonists don’t survive until the end. The experience of watching The Ballad of Buster Scruggs isn’t what we may expect from reading story synopses—it’s far funnier (in a darkly humorous vein) than the plot suggests, and the combination of terrific cinematography (seriously—the west seldom looked so good) and good acting does manage to raise the final result to something quite fascinating. It probably takes some experience with the Coen’s typically inconclusive and dark storytelling style to get the most of the film, but it’s quite an unusual piece of cinema.