The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada

Film review by: Witney Seibold


            Kinda of like a twisted cross between the dark, gritty, filthy, manly struggle of Sam Peckinpah’s Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia and the peculiar, quirky, bizaarro calm of David Lynch’s The Straight Story, Tommy Lee Jones’ directorial debut is an intriguing and slow-moving amalgam of western clichés, odd human characters, murder plots, infidelity, and the true meaning of friendship. Or something. It’s hard to tell, as the film comes at you as such an obtuse angle. But, I must add, it is never anything short of enthralling.

            Jones plays Pete, a sad-eyed and resolute man who finds his illegal immigrant buddy Mel (Julio Cesar Cedillo) murdered in the desert of Texas. The local law (represented by Dwight Yoakam, eesh) have no interest in soling the crime. Pete does a little bit of poking around, and soon finds that the killer was a recently transplanted Border Patrol officer Mike (Barry Pepper), a mean and petty man who looks forward to the times he can find an empty spot to read his Hustler magazine. We also get to know Mike’s young wife Lou Ann (January Jones), practically a teenager, addicted to malls, and wearing too much pink, and a bitter diner waitress Rachel (Melissa Leo) who is having affairs with most everyone. Pete eventually learns that Mike killed Melquiades, Mel is indeed exhumed, and the three of them spend much of the movie making their way (almost like “Rubin & Ed”), on horseback, back to Mel’s hometown in Mexico where he may be finally interred where he wanted.

            Jones has made some interesting storytelling choices: The first part of the story is told out of chronological order. This is a great way to get to know the characters while simultaneous advancing the murder plot, but still throws us about a bit, causing a mild disorientation. Then, when we’re finally on the road with Pete and Mike and the dead Mel, we’ve shifted gears into something kind of Peckinpah-ian and western-y. It’s a strange shift. The character of Lou Ann, duded up in her pink tank top, short shorts, and heavy eye makeup looks like she escaped from an episode of Twin Peaks, and Mike is such an asshole at the beginning of the film that it’s almost incredible the way he comes about to redemption at the end.

            Is it a good film? I think it is. It’s certainly a challenging one, as it falls into no set category. But then, making a truly unique film is a remarkable achievement, and Jones certainly has a certain knack for getting us involved. I recommend it.

February 3rd, Sony Pictures Classics



Published in: on October 28, 2008 at 7:37 pm  Leave a Comment  

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