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
Ay, carramba! A diablo of a marketing challenge: a bilingual movie, with an impossible-to-remember title, a story of white trash, Mexican wetbacks (that's the film's language), cruel Border Patrol "cowboys," and Tommy Lee Jones as the director and the uniquely memorable lead character... and a film that's one of the year's best.
"The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada" opens with a somewhat confusing sequence of flashbacks, and for the first half hour, you wish you were watching something more "orderly," but you'll be hooked anyway. For the next hour and a half, however, there is a crescendo of images and situations hitting the viewer over the head, amazing and moving.
Taking the corpse of a friend - and his very much alive killer - back to Mexico for a "proper burial" and to mete out justice, Jones' voyage is a quirky, epic adventure, based on the brilliant writing of Guillermo Arriaga (of "21 Grams"), and filmed to perfection by Chris Menges (of "The Killing Fields" and "The Mission").
Besides Jones (who won the 2005 Cannes Festival best actor award for this), "3 Burials" features fabulous performances by Barry Pepper ("25 Hours"), Julio Cedillo, and a large group of remarkable supporting actors on both sides of the border.
Jones says something in the production notes that could sound arrogant or affected... except that it's true: "Some visual influences have been the kabuki theater, the art of Donald Judd and Dan Flavin, and the films of Akira Kurasawa, Sam Peckinpah, and Jean-Luc Godard." Amen.
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