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The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada Movie Poster

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada

Genre: Drama
Rated: R
Directed by
: Tommy Lee Jones
Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Barry Pepper, Julio Cedilla, January Jones, Melissa Leo, Dwight Yoakam, Levon Helm
Released by: Sony Pictures Classics

In Short: Personal loyalty crashes hard into racial prejudice in this bloody modern-day western set against the unforgiving landscape of the Texas-Mexico border.

Promises to Keep
Going the Distance for Friendship
By Jenny Peters

It took veteran Academy Award-winning actor Tommy Lee Jones until he was almost sixty years old to direct his first feature film, "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada," and he has pulled it off with aplomb. A compelling and often brutal tale of friendship, murder, racism and revenge set against the sere desert vistas of southwest Texas and Mexico, the multi-layered movie takes the audience on an unforgettable journey.

Jones also stars in the film as ranch foreman Pete Perkins, a grizzled cowboy whose best friend is Melquiades Estrada (Julio Cedillo). Estrada is one of Perkins' ranch hands and a Mexican illegal alien who has lived in their small Texas border town for more than a dozen years. Jones masterfully establishes the rhythms, relationships and prejudices in the small town before the film’s turning point, when a newly arrived Border Patrol agent, Mike Norton (Barry Pepper), accidentally shoots Estrada, then covers up the incident.

Perkins isn't about to let his friend stay buried in an unmarked grave, nor is he willing to let the killer get away. Thus begins a very strange—and satisfying—road trip. As the horseback trek to take Estrada’s remains back to his Mexican home unfolds, Jones and Pepper give the performances of their lives, one as a furious avenger and the other as the initially defiant killer whose underlying guilt slowly eats away at him as he is forced along the journey.

The taut script by Guillermo Arriaga ("21 Grams,” "Amores Perros") is liberally sprinkled with dark humor. Especially effective are January Jones (no relation to Tommy Lee) as Norton's bored and disaffected young wife, and Dwight Yoakam, playing a sad-sack sheriff.

The film is distinctly brutal, and not for the squeamish. But for any cinema lover who finds deeply layered stories that explore characters’ innermost feelings to be the ultimate turn on, this one's for you.

(Updated 01/21/08 NJ)

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