The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada
- Tommy Lee Jones
- Reviewed by
- Josť Ruiloba a.k.a. Morris
- Review date
- Wednesday, November 02, 2005
Mike Norton (Barry Pepper) is sent to Texas as a border patrolman, where he moves with his wife Lou Ann (January Jones). One boring day Mike accidentally kills Melquiades Estrada (Julio Cesar Cedillo), an illegal immigrant caring for his sheep. Pete Perkins (Tommy Lee Jones), a ranch man who was Melquiadesí good friend, finds out about this and takes Mike as a hostage so they can both bring the dead manís corpse to Mexico with his family. But local Sheriff Belmont (Dwight Yoakam) wonít make it any easy for him, especially since they have never liked each other and theyíre both fucking the same woman, Rachel (Melissa Leo).
The movie starts with the most embarrassingly awful credits design I have seen in a high-profile movie. The names of the people involved appear in different bright colors (red, orange, green, blue, etc) with the backdrop of the sunny desert. I donít know why they did it, but those credits belong to a movie about a circus or something like that, not here.
The story is pretty interesting and original, but the movie does not sustain its premise as well as it should. I fault, surprisingly enough, Arriagaís script. The movie is simply over-written. And I didnít even care that much for the Americans-bad-Mexicans-good one-dimensional approach. There are some scenes that are too over-the-top (take, for example, the exaggerated police team arriving at the blind manís house), the movie is told in non-linear episodic format (which in this case I donít think was really necessary), and there are entire bits that drag for a while (the whole middle section especially).
Thereís also some cartoon-y feel to some of the proceedings. While in the desert, Mike has every inconvenience you can imagine, and itís played as if we should feel good about this. Thing isÖ we do, which is somewhat disturbing in a serious movie that is trying to say something real and important (albeit without any kind of subtlety). Thereís even a scene where you think things couldnít get worse for him in which an angry lady beats the crap out of him, and the audience at my theater actually cheered and applauded. Iíve got to admit it felt good, but Iím not sure this in-your-face approach was necessary. Iím just saying that I do know how border patrolmen can be unnecessarily tough to illegal immigrants, I know, but this movie borders on the ridiculous at times, believe me.
Iíve mentioned the bad, now for the good. The movie has a political agenda and it certainly comes across loud and clear. Itís an important subject to tackle and Iím glad someone had the balls. The story of Pete is also well-handled and he is the most interesting character in the movie. Hereís a man who once made a promise and is determined to see it happen, which says a lot about honor and dignity. The journey takes Pete through a series of events in which he changes and tries to find the meaning of his life. At the end of the day, the journey is about something completely different, sending Pete into a redemptive burst that comes in the heels of his uncertainty.
I also enjoyed the subplots involving Lou Ann and Rachel back in the US. Their stories and portrayals are the most real depictions in the movie. There are many women like them in real life, and they are presented as fully-fleshed three-dimensional individuals in the short period of time theyíre given.
And also, there are some comedic bits involving the corpse that are very welcomed.
Kudos to every actor involved. Tommy Lee Jones delivers a performance that is a career highlight. He grounds the larger-then-life story and gives it weight. Melissa Leo and January Jones are extraordinary. Pepper and Yoakam are good as well, itís just too bad their characters do not ring that true.
Still, a worthy trip.
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