The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada

"Extraordinary"

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada Review


Tommy Lee Jones made his big-screen acting debut in the 1970 classic Love Story, yet it took him over 20 years and impressive performances in movies like JFK and The Fugitive to become a household name. Acclaim for Jones as a director should come much faster, if his debut film, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, is a sign of things to come. Burials is a complex and remarkably assured film, taking the audience on a literal and metaphoric journey through the sand-blasted wastelands of south Texas to a point of redemption and agony, of forgiveness and searing regret.

Written by Guillermo Arriaga (Amores Perros, 21 Grams), the story is broken into several parts, each introduced by a chapter heading, jumping forward and backward in time. The action begins with two hunters coming upon the disinterred body of an illegal Mexican immigrant, Melquiades Estrada, who has been shot to death and hastily buried in a makeshift grave, only to have a coyote dig him up. The redneck sheriff (Dwight Yoakam) doesn't care enough about a dead Mexican to investigate his death, even though Melquiades' friend and employer, Pete Perkins (Jones), gives him evidence implicating a border patrolman.

Their conflict over the worth of a single human life, any and every single human life, is central to the film's overarching humanistic theme. Such material would play like a sermon in the hands of a lesser writer and director, but Burials is never preachy or self-congratulatory. Every time it seems like a message is on its way, Burials ducks away from what's expected and takes an interesting, unexpected turn.

Through a series of flashback sequences, Pete's suspicions about Melquiades' death are confirmed to the audience. Mike Norton (Barry Pepper) is new to his job as a border patrolman. He and his pretty wife, Lou Ann, have just moved to Texas from Cincinnati and both of them are having trouble adjusting. Norton's anger flashes when he's on the job and he's reprimanded for punching a Mexican woman in the face during her apprehension. One day Norton pulls off to the side of a remote dirt road to look at porn when gunshots ring out. Panicked, Norton returns fire with his high-powered rifle and kills the distant gunman, who happens to be Melquiades. The trouble is, Melquiades wasn't firing at Norton. Melquiades was shooting at a coyote who was threatening the livestock he was tending, as evidenced by the wounded animal Norton passes on his way to inspect Melquiades' body.

Eventually the sheriff is tipped off that Norton is the killer but he decides doing anything about it is more trouble than it's worth. He buries Melquiades in a mismarked grave. However, a waitress at the local café overhears the sheriff and the tipster talking about the killing and tells Pete about their conversation. So Pete kidnaps Norton and forces him to dig up Melquiades's body for the second time. No matter what it costs him -- his freedom, his life -- Pete intends to make good on his promise to bury Melquiades in his hometown, and he wants Norton to come with him.

Their trek over the border, being chased by the border patrol, comprises the second half of the film. During this stretch Norton faces all manner of dehumanization, much like that faced by illegal immigrants. He's beaten repeatedly, he's forced to do hard labor, he's made a victim of the elements, and he's stripped of all that matters to him. It is impossible not to sympathize with him, even though Pepper's portrayal of Norton never invites identification and his character is utterly contemptible. Likewise, Jones plays Pete like a man on a mission, not a crusade. At his core, Jones's Pete is a force for integrity and mercy and goodness, but he's also violent and vengeful and rarely above reproach.

Filmmakers rarely attempt to sketch such a complex portrait. Even more rarely do they succeed. The narrative world created by Arriaga and Jones is as troubling and ambiguous as the one we live in. Burials forces the audience to identify with its villains and question its heroes. At times bleak and violent, at others sweet and humorous, Burials ultimately affirms the value of all humans, privileged and poor, good and evil, all of us -- and that's quite an achievement.

The DVD includes a commentary track from Tommy Lee Jones, Dwight Yoakam, and January Jones.

Aka Los Tres entierros de Melquiades Estrada.



The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada

Facts and Figures

Run time: 121 mins

In Theaters: Friday 3rd February 2006

Box Office USA: $4.9M

Box Office Worldwide: $12M

Budget: $15M

Distributed by: Sony Pictures Classics

Production compaines: The Javelina Film Company, EuropaCorp

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 85%
Fresh: 119 Rotten: 21

IMDB: 7.5 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Producer:

Starring: as Pete Perkins, as Mike Norton, as Belmont, as Lou Ann Norton, as Rachel, Julio Cedillo as Melquiades Estrada, as Old Man with Radio, Mel Rodriguez as Captain Gomez, Cecilia Suárez as Rosa, Ignacio Guadalupe as Lucio, as Mariana, Irineo Alvarez as Manuel, as Juan, as Border Patrolman, Rodger Boyce as Salesman

Also starring:

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Colossal Movie Review

Colossal Movie Review

It's rare to find a movie that so defiantly refuses to be put into a...

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword Movie Review

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword Movie Review

It's unlikely that Guy Ritchie could make a boring movie if he wanted to. This...

Snatched Movie Review

Snatched Movie Review

It doesn't really matter that the script for this lively action-comedy is paper thin: teaming...

Jawbone Movie Review

Jawbone Movie Review

Boxing movies aren't usually this thoughtful. Sure, there are plenty of punchy moments in the...

Whisky Galore! Movie Review

Whisky Galore! Movie Review

Scottish filmmaker Gillies MacKinnon (Hideous Kinky) remakes the 1949 Ealing comedy classic, although it's difficult...

Alien: Covenant Movie Review

Alien: Covenant Movie Review

Master filmmaker Ridley Scott is back to continue the story 10 years after the events...

The Journey (2017) Movie Review

The Journey (2017) Movie Review

A fictionalised account of real events, this drama is reminiscent of Peter Morgan's work in...

Advertisement
Sleepless Movie Review

Sleepless Movie Review

In remaking the 2011 French thriller Sleepless Night, the filmmakers have dumbed down both the...

Unlocked Movie Review

Unlocked Movie Review

By injecting a steady sense of fun, this slick but mindless action thriller both holds...

Lady Macbeth Movie Review

Lady Macbeth Movie Review

A seriously impressive feature directing debut with a star-making central performance, this period British drama...

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Movie Review

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Movie Review

It was never going to be easy to match the impact of 2014's Guardians of...

The Promise Movie Review

The Promise Movie Review

The director of Hotel Rwanda, Terry George, turns to another humanitarian horror: the systematic murder...

Their Finest Movie Review

Their Finest Movie Review

Skilfully written, directed and acted, this offbeat British period film tells a story that catches...

Unforgettable Movie Review

Unforgettable Movie Review

With heavy echoes of trashy thrillers like Fatal Attraction, this movie overcomes its painfully simplistic...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.