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  Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada Rest In Peace
Year: 2005
Director: Tommy Lee Jones
Stars: Tommy Lee Jones, Barry Pepper, Julio Cedilla, Dwight Yoakam, January Jones, Melissa Leo, Levon Helm, Mel Rodriguez, Cecilia Suárez, Ignacio Guadalupe, Vanessa Bauche, Irineo Alvarez, Guillermo Arriaga, Josh Berry, Rodger Boyce
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Pete Perkins (Tommy Lee Jones) has just lost a good friend, a man he trusted, an illegal immigrant named Melquiades Estrada (Julio Cedilla). A younger man than he, Estrada was senselessly shot dead while out tending his livestock, and Pete is dissatisfied at the efforts of local sheriff Frank Belmont (Dwight Yoakam) to clear up the mystery of who killed him. It wasn't murder, as it turns out, but it might as well have been in Pete's eyes as he travels to the scene of the crime and picks up two cartridges that he wants considered as evidence. So who really shot him? Step forward new boy in town, overeager border patrolman Mike Norton (Barry Pepper)...

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, scripted by Guillermo Arriaga (who also appears), was the late-on directorial debut (unless you count a TV movie in the nineties) of Tommy Lee Jones, and as one would expect of the man himself, didn't suffer fools gladly, Mike being the fool. Its first third is not in chronological order, and though its settles after a while, it presents itself as a challenge to the viewer, as if to weed out the men from the boys, saying if you can't follow this you may as well watch something far more straightforward and leave us real moviewatchers to sort this one out. Once you work out what is supposed to have happened, however, it all falls into place.

And pretty neatly too, until the strands of the plot are left in a tangled knot at the end. At first we seem to be regarding two separate stories, one with Pete investigating his friend's death and another with Mike and his new wife Lou Ann (January Jones) moving from Cincinatti to the Mexican-American border, leaving her lost in a nowhere land of hanging around waiting for her husband to return home for joyless sex. But as the background is fleshed out, we find that Lou Ann had met Estrada through a new friend at the diner she passes time in, waitress Rachel (Melissa Leo), who is serially unfaithful to her husband but means to stay with him just the same.

We get to understand that Estrada was Pete's one true friend, and when he asked him, should he die before him, could be ensure his body be returned to the tiny Mexican town where his wife and children live, Pete feels it's the least he can do now he really has passed on. And when he discovers that Mike is the man who shot him, he also feels it's only fair that Mike should "help" him. What transpires is nothing short of macabre as Mike is forced at gunpoint to dig up Estrada's body and he and Pete (and the corpse) begin their long trek to Mexico, with the border patrol and Belmont in hot pursuit.

Well, I say "hot pursuit" but the film is deliberately paced to take in that evocative scenery, broodingly shot by Chris Menges. As the journey goes on, Mike is put through the wringer and has to suffer painful indignity upon regular humiliation, even being bitten by a rattlesnake during an escape attempt. Every relationship in the story is depicted as a pale shadow of the one between Pete and Estrada, with Mike and Lou Ann's loveless marriage the most blatant, but also in the minor characters like an unrecognisable Levon Helm as an elderly blind man abandoned by his son to live in the desert alone months before. Yet while the truthulness of what Estrada told Pete is finally called into question, the purity of their companionship is never doubted, making the film a curious combination of the stark and the sentimental. But it does have an odd appeal, for all that. Music by Marco Beltrami.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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