The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2005)

Tommy Lee Jones directorial debut is a modern western and a commentary on illegal immigrant workers in the US. The film brings out the humanity in it's three leading men.

Jones plays a rancher in south Texas who has a Mexican ranch hand who is killed by a border patrolman, played superbly by Canadian method actor Barry Pepper. The film follows the chain of events that surround the death of Melquiades.

Some terrific and not often seen juxtapositions in this film: the old vs. young unhappy wife, the natural man/woman vs. the law/consumerist man/woman, Mexico vs. the USA, living vs. dead etc... I find the film does a terrific job of discussing the title topic - burial. Death and mourning has been so sanitized in western culture that it is something that needs to be explored much further and this film handles it's position very nicely.

Pepper's callous and self-gratifying character is rather brutal to watch at first. his transformation through the film, though expected, can be likened to a rite of passage. Salvation is a strong theme and man's godlessness careens steadily through the plot and the two make another striking contrast.

Melquiades, the wetback, leads a minor subplot too. He hasn't seen his family in five years and I was intrigued by how the film handled this aspect of his story on the Mexican side. It is something I'd like to one day produce a film on and I appreciated it's angle very much.

I recommend this quiet film. It keeps a pretty low profile through the entire movie; for instance though there is a lengthy chase/hunt scene, it doesn't get carried away into an adrenaline pumping, US Marshalls type chase. The characters are mild and generally honest with their feelings. A new kind of western.

Official Site | IMDB


Amber said...

I too was impressed with this film. The loyalty of Tommy Lee Jones character was very admirable, and the story was just so refreshing in it's originality.

Glenn said...

Hi Zaak,

Good review. I really enjoyed your take on Death & mourning in western culture.

I found the film fasinating in its originality. I'll be interested in Jone's work on the other side of the camera.