With “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” the Coen brothers sing a different tune, albeit in a minor key. Ah, but what sweet music! The mellifluous dialogue rolling pleasingly off the tongues of an alluring cast taking us back to the Old West and all the violence and misery that period entailed. And the manner in which it’s orchestrated is bellissimo, with death being the common theme of an anthology consisting of six well-crafted short stories simultaneously honoring and satirizing the Sunday-morning Westerns the Minnesotans grew up watching on TV.

It’s also very much a raised middle finger to critics who accuse the brothers of being misanthropes who hate their characters and relish finding cruel, inventive means for them to die. Steve Buscemi fed into a woodchipper, anyone? It’s like the brothers are saying, “If that’s what you think, well, here you go.” So, we get death via bullet, noose, tomahawk, arrow and most disturbingly, drowning. Some of these demises are funny, others poignant, but all sufficiently tap your emotions. But be careful who root for; they might not be around long.

You’ve probably heard “Buster Scruggs” is a Netflix joint being released in theaters and on the streaming service on the same day. Even though the urge is to watch it at home, I can’t implore you enough to experience it on the largest movie screen possible. TV simply doesn’t do justice to a film as big as the all outdoors, much of it captured on the timeless landscapes of Nebraska and New Mexico. Some of the scenes, all shot by Bruno Delbonnel (“Inside Llewyn Davis”), are breathtaking in their size and scope, underscoring just how little these self-important humans rank in the scheme of things. They simply are no match for a wild, untamed land where death lurks around every prickly cactus and craggy rock.

It’s into this scene Tim Blake Nelson’s fancy-tongued Buster Scruggs rides, strumming his guitar and crooning away on the back of his loyal white horse, Dan. The tune is “Cool Clear Water,” made famous by the Sons of the Pioneers, whose membership included Roy Rogers, the dandy songbird Nelson is so obviously mimicking. One difference, Roy was never this polite and friendly, nor did he take this much joy in slaughtering everyone in his path before celebrating his latest kill by hilariously emulating Marlene Dietrich’s iconic song and dance from “Destry Rides Again.” Or, at least I don’t remember him doing it.

The segment, from which this musically inclined movie culls its title, is the first of six tales that literally pop off the ragged-edged pages of a dusty old book used as a prop between stories. And the first chapter is by far the best of the bunch, loaded with sparkling, twisted dialogue only Joel and Ethan Coen can write. The only other tale coming close is “All Gold Canyon,” featuring a terrific Tom Waits essentially going it alone as an old, grizzled prospector invading an idyllic virgin valley in search of gold. We watch him work meticulously, using logic, determination and a nearby stream to find the motherlode, or “Mister Pocket” as he calls it in his many conversations with himself. It comes with an unforeseen twist, as do all six parts, but this one brings a tear instead of a laugh, especially when Waits warbles — in his lovely, gravelly voice –— “Mother Machree.”

Next in line in terms of story and payoff is “The Gal Who Got Rattled,” starring Zoe Kazan as a meek pioneer woman finding love and heartbreak in the company of President Pierce, an adorable Jack Russell terrier heading west with her to Oregon as part of a large wagon train. Then there’s the disturbing “Meal Ticket,” with an almost silent Liam Neeson as the surly, drunken proprietor of a traveling show featuring The Wingless Thrush, a dynamic orator (Harry Melling) living without benefit of arms and legs. The lack of compassion on the part of Neeson’s character is shocking, but not as wicked as his actions once audiences for The Wingless Thrush begin to diminish.

The other two chapters, “Near Algonedos” featuring James Franco as a charismatic bank robber cheating death; and “The Mortal Remains,” with Brendan Gleeson (wait until you hear him sing the stirring “The Bard of Armagh”) joining Saul Rubinek and Tyne Daly among six chatty riders — and a corpse –— aboard a speeding stagecoach, are lesser achievements, but no less entertaining. The cumulative result is a movie that isn’t among the brothers’ most satisfying. Heck, it wasn’t even supposed to be a feature film. Rather, it was to be a six-part anthology on Netflix. But the executives there obviously thought like me that “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” is so cinematic and so well-acted that it belongs on the big screen. It’s a wise choice that not only pleases the eyes and ears, but also the soul with its subtle profundities about pioneers setting a precedent for desecrating the environment, robbing the Native Americans of their land and allowing death by gun to become as much a part of our backbone as breathing. And it’s all been accomplished in full view of a growing populace blissfully unwilling to do anything to stop it. That’s a lofty statement, but made all the more palatable when delivered by the Coens as only they can — with a wink, a smile and a song.

— Al Alexander may be reached at alexandercritica@aol.com.

“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs”

Cast includes Tim Blake Nelson, James Franco, Liam Neeson, Tom Waits, Zoe Kazan, Brendan Gleeson, Tyne Daly and Saul Rubinek. (R for some strong violence.)

Grade: B+