The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada
3.5/5 Los Tres Entierros de Melquiades Estrada
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir Tommy Lee Jones
scr Guillermo Arriaga
with Tommy Lee Jones, Barry Pepper, Julio Cesar Cedillo, Dwight Yoakam, January Jones, Melissa Leo, Vanessa Bauche, Richard Jones, Levon Helm, Mel Rodriguez, Cecilia Suárez, Ignacio Guadalupe
release US 14.Dec.05,
UK 31.Mar.06
05/US Europa 2h01

Road to perdition: Pepper and Jones

jones pepper yoakam

Winner: Best Actor
and Best Screenplay
Cannes Film Fest

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada This evocative modern-day Western won two top awards at Cannes, and is indeed a beautifully written and acted mini-epic about life and death. Although it might be somewhat enigmatic for many viewers.

In a Texas border community, the sheriff (Yoakam) makes no attempt to solve the murder of local Mexican immigrant Melquiades (Cedillo), whose body is found in a shallow grave. They just re-bury him anonymously. But his good friend Pete (Jones) decides to take matters into his own hands, tracking down the hapless killer, Mike (Pepper), digging up the body and taking a journey by horseback to return Melquiades' body to his home in Mexico.

As a director, Jones gives this film a striking look that captures the unforgiving Texas sunshine--a dusty beauty that feels baked on. This gritty, tough tone is matched in the performances, which are raw and weighted and constantly surprising in very small ways. It's an epic journey into the soul of the land, and a transformational journey for three men--Pete, Mike and Melquiades (who we get to know in flashbacks). The actors are terrific, as are the women (January Jones and Leo) and others who touch their lives.

Besides the journey motif, there's nothing simple about this story. It's a bitter tale full of intense introspection and interaction--no one seems quite sure what it is they want out of life as they flail around looking for hope and some form of redemption for past indiscretions. This is very much a post-modern Western, dealing with metaphysics in an earthy way, refusing to find easy answers and blurring the lines between revenge and mercy.

Jones and Arriaga peel back the layers of these characters, humbling them and discovering their deepest, hidden dignity. The whole thing feels a little murky, as notions of forgiveness and atonement swirl around just out of reach. Mike has to pay for what he did, but maybe that means acknowledging his imperfections. Pete must demand retribution and carry out his friend's wishes, but that might not help either of them find peace.

cert 15 themes, violence, language 15.Dec.05

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© 2005 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall