Round 6, Pick 4
The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada
(Sony Pictures, 2005)
R for language, violence, and sexuality
Directed by: Tommy Lee Jones
Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Barry Pepper, Julio Cedillo
Pride and Prejudice: The Western
By Bernie Sauer
The murdered body of Melquiades Estrada is buried in a hurry because the shooting and the politics are too complicated to stand trial near the Mexican border. Best friend of Estrada, Pete Perkins (Tommy Lee Jones), realizes that no further investigation of the murder will ensue, so he takes justice into his own hands by kidnapping the border patrolman who took Estrada’s life and forces him at gunpoint to disinter Melquiades from his grave and transport him to home soil in Mexico for a proper burial.
Unbeknownst to the patrolman (Barry Pepper of Saving Private Ryan), this road trip to the cemetery will be hot, dusty, and grueling as Pete flirts with madness and his own reconciliation.
Tough, sporadically funny, and definitely grisly, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada is an audacious neo-western. You have your whiskery hero with a cowboy hat who lives by his own code, several bonding moments between stubborn men, retribution for the coward character, and the lesson that maybe vengeance isn’t always the best solution. Add a few flashbacks, and, of course, a woman to complicate things, and you are all set.
This is also the directorial debut for Tommy Lee Jones, who captures the western beautifully with the help of some radiant cinematography by Chris Menges of The Mission (1986) and a cunning script by Mexican writer Guillermo Arriaga of Amores Perros (2000) and 21 Grams (2003).
Film buffs will catch glimpses of the same grittiness seen in Sam Peckinpah’s Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974) and similar morality lessons seen John Huston’s The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948). True, Jones’s film may not be an original, but it does play homage to the memorable classics set in the old west.
This was one of the best films of 2005, but I am also reluctant to recommend the film because the western genre is so frowned upon by our younger generations these days. (I blame it on the upsweep of reality T.V. and short attention spans.)
My suggestion is to watch this movie simply for the sake of Tommy Lee Jones’s extraordinary performance. Or, simply sit back and enjoy the gorgeous landscape shots to Marco Beltrami’s sweeping film score. Or, see it because it contains one of the best lines at the end of a movie.