-MONTHLY VHS & DVD REVIEW-
The Three Burials Of Melquiades Estrada |
cast: Tommy Lee Jones, Barry Pepper, Dwight Yoakam, January Jones, and Melissa Leo
director: Tommy Lee Jones
116 minutes (15) 2005
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Optimum DVD Region 2 retail
reviewed by J.C. Hartley
First up, this film received an 'R' rating in the USA for violence and sexual content
which was commuted to a 15 certificate by the time it reached here; with regard to the
American film classification board, and to paraphrase Lou Ann in this particular movie,
those sons of bitches are beyond redemption.
This is Tommy Lee Jones second venture at directing after The Good Old Boys, a
1995 TV movie, and is a complex, lyrical, violent, and at times beautiful picture.
Divided into chapters (The first burial..; The second burial...; The Journey; The third
burial...) the film opens with a confident blend of straight-forward narration and flashbacks,
showing the discovery of the corpse of Melquiades Estrada (Julio Cedilla, Bordertown),
the introduction of his friend Pete Perkins (Tommy Lee Jones,
Men In Black), and the arrival in the Texas border town of border patrolman Mike
Norton (Barry Pepper, Battlefield
Earth, Ripley Under Ground) and his wife Lou Ann (January Jones, Love Actually,
We discover that Melquiades was a 'wetback', an illegal immigrant from over the border in
Mexico, who riding by one day gets work as a cowboy alongside Pete Perkins; due to the
fragmented storytelling the two men's relationship at first appears too casual to explain
Pete's reaction to the Mexican's death, but gradually their closeness emerges and illuminates
the desperate loneliness not just of Pete, but of all the leading characters.
Melquiades has been shot, and Pete, in the face of Sheriff Belmont's lack of concern,
determines to establish who was responsible. Pete's haphazard investigation, challenging
the Border Patrol on what ammunition they use, is resented by Belmont (Dwight Yoakam,
Wedding Crashers), as he and Pete share the favours of Rachel (Melissa Leo,
21 Grams) the
married owner/ waitress of the local diner. It is Rachel who discovers Melquiades' killer
and her motivation for revealing the name to Pete, although never explained, can only be
tied up with her own desperate loneliness and her friendship with Lou Ann. In a violent
attack Pete kidnaps Patrolman Norton, disinters Melquiades, and sets off on a journey over
the border into Mexico to bury the body in his home village.
There are techniques displayed in this film that one feels Jones has absorbed in his long
and successful acting career; scenes tend to be short, dialogue is usually minimal and
sometimes unintelligible, occasionally the admiration for what Jones has achieved is
qualified somewhat when the direction appears a little too smart. Notwithstanding criticism
this film is almost flawless; there are simple scenes of incredible insight into how people
are, as if a western suddenly unearthed a powerful truth which was immediately discarded by
the necessities of storytelling.
Some scenes stand out, and not always for what they show rather than for what lies behind
them. When Lou Ann tells husband Mike she is on a diet, he challenges her ridiculous assertion
that she is "a little bit" fat in what seems to be a moment of genuine tenderness,
only for him to tell her she is "a hot momma" and penetrate her from behind as she
leans over her chopping board, pained attention never wavering from the soap opera on TV. When
Sheriff Belmont picks out Pete in his rifle sights his finger prepares to squeeze the trigger
only for some higher conscience to prevent him from eliminating his rival. The friendship
between Rachel and Lou Ann is understated, loneliness and longing only hints in Melissa Leo's
eyes and the superb January Jones' half-smiles.
The finale is a little disappointing, not the parting of Pete and Mike but the latter's
'redemption' which precedes it, far stronger is the scene of Mike's tears as he views a
crass daytime soap opera with a party of uncomprehending Mexican cowboys by the side of
the trail. Nothing is explained in The Three Burials Of Melquiades Estrada and it
is questionable if anyone is saved, but there is friendship and generosity, and hope if
you look for it, and often that is enough.
DVD extras: a making-of featurette, a look at creating the music, some extended/ deleted
scenes, a commentary track, some interviews, and a trailer.