BIG THUMBS UP FILM REVIEW RATING!
With a title like this, one might think this would be a rather depressing story. Burying someone three times seems ...well ...dark. And although The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada has its dark tones, the film is anything but depressing. Directed and starring Tommy Lee Jones (LONESOME DOVE), the movie watcher is guided through a plot unlike any I’ve seen.
Nonlinear storylines in film are not uncommon (ala MEMENTO) and this one takes us down that well-trodden path, too. But here we get to see the burial of Melquiades Estrada (Julio Cedillo, THE ALAMO) through multiple viewpoints. First we see it through Pete Perkins’ (Tommy Lee). He’s a rancher who befriends the luckless Mexican. Melquiades Estrada crossed the Mexico/Texas border illegally and is simply looking to make a better life for himself. He tells Pete that he wants to make things better for his wife and children in Mexico, too, but that if anything should happen to him, Pete has to promise to take him back to his little hometown in Mexico and bury him. Pete reluctantly agrees.
Next we get to see Mike Norton (Barry Pepper, SAVING PRIVATE RYAN), a newly employed US Border Patrol Agent and his wife Lou Ann (January Jones, LOVE ACTUALLY) move to a one-horse border town. Lou Ann is a shallow and immature young woman who only wants to go to "the mall" and sexually pleases her husband in as boring a fashion one could imagine. Barry’s gung-ho attitude quickly gets him into trouble on the job. He hates these Mexicans who are continually trying to cross the border. Always on the lookout for "the enemy" Barry’s thoughtless reaction to stray gunshots being fired end up causing Melquiades Estrada’s death. Barry covers it up (the first burial) and tries to forget about it.
The third set of eyes which we get to see the burials from are, surprisingly, Melquiades himself. After his death and first burial, his corpse is soon discovered and brought into town for identification. His name is incorrectly listed, a grave marker erected, and he’s unceremoniously buried again (#2).
When Pete discovers what happened to his friend, and who was responsible, he quickly takes matters into his own hands. Pete ain’t happy that Mike Norton (Pepper) isn’t being punished for what he did. Few know about it and those that do are within the brotherhood of law enforcement. Sooo ...Pete kidnaps Mike, forces him to dig up Melquiades’ body, then makes him haul the decaying corpse back to Mexico.
They cross the border and have great difficulty locating the dead man’s hometown. No one in Mexico recognizes the name of it, including his wife. His wife? Doesn’t she live in the town? Nope. In fact, the picture of his wife and kids that Melquiades showed Pete aren’t really his. Why did he lie? Pete decides to find the town anyway and bury his friend there. His search seems nearly fruitless until he stumbles across a small half torn-down building in the middle of nowhere. He decides that this MUST be the place. But is it? Much is left to the viewer’s interpretation here. Was Melquiades crazy or deluded? Or did Pete REALLY find the town?
Regardless, Pete makes Mike bury Melquiades (the third time!) and then releases Mike. It’s a poignant moment when Pete releases him because much has transpired since their ordeal began. Mike is now in Mexico amongst "the enemies" he perceived when he was on the other side of the border. But now, being in their midst, his radical tone softens. But it’s a hard realization and the film pulls it off without becoming trite.
Tommy Lee Jones is an able actor and director and this film proves it. Of course, Barry Pepper is no slouch either. Both pull in excellent performances and the scenes of the Rio Grande and border towns are perfectly portrayed.
This is a must see.
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