A man is shot and quickly buried in the high desert of west Texas. The body is found and reburied in Van Horn's town cemetery. Pete Perkins, a local ranch foreman, kidnaps a Border Patrolman and forces him to disinter the body. With his captive in tow and the body tied to a mule, Pete undertakes a dangerous and quixotic journey into Mexico. Written by
"The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada" is a surprise. Directed by Tommy Lee Jones, marking his first time behind the camera, with a screen play by Guillermo Arriaga, this is a film that tells a story about an murder in a troubled border area between the US and Mexico. The film is loosely based on a true story that happened in that part of the country some years ago.
Pete Perkins is a decent man. When his ranch hand is killed under mysterious circumstances, Pete jumps into action. Pete wants to take his friend, Melquiades Estrada, across the border to Mexico to make sure he receives the proper burial he deserves. A coyote has lead to the first burial site and the following investigation involves the local sheriff, Belmont, but Pete will have none of that.
Pete's investigation leads him to the corrupt border guard Mike Norton. Perkins captures the man and with the body strapped to a horse and his captive in another, Pete begins the long journey to Mexico. He passes the hot land between the two countries in a voyage that will bring Melquiades to his home.
The separate narratives at the beginning of the film are somehow confusing and the viewer is advised to pay close attention to it since it has multiple stories going on at a time when we don't know much of what is happening. We get to meet the cruel Norton and his bored wife Lou Ann. It also serve as the way to tell us how Pete and Norton meet.
Tommy Lee Jones, with his rugged looks, brings a tremendous presence to his own film. Mr. Jones is a decent man who can't stand the injustice his hired hand suffered as he delves into solving the mystery of Melquiades' death. Barry Pepper is quite good as the nasty Mike Norton, a man who gets much more than what he bargained for. Dwight Yoakam, January Jones and Melissa Leo are seen in minor roles. Julio Cedillo plays the dead man, Melquiades Estrada.
Tommy Lee Jones is blessed to be working on his first venture with the great cinematographer Chris Menges. Mr. Menges' take on the scenery is one of the best things in the film. The musical score by Marco Beltrami is also another asset. The editing of Roberto Silvi sets the tone for the early part of the movie.
"The Three Deaths of Melquiades Estrada" shows us a mature Tommy Lee Jones who has learned his lesson well in front of the camera. Now, working behind, as well as directing himself and his amazing cast, he shows a humongous talent that ought to be seen in future ventures.
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