The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada
Ranch hand Pete Perkins (Tommy Lee Jones) sets out to fulfil the promise to his recently deceased best friend by burying him in his home town in Mexico.
The film is directed by Tommy Lee Jones and has been acclaimed by most critics. I didn’t think it was a good film, but it is a film which is not without interest.
Apart from Jones it comes with a script penned by Guillermo Arriaga, much in demand after his successes with Amores perres and 21 Grams.
His directing apart, Tommy Lee Jones does almost nothing with his portrayal of the lead character. Jones is not known for minimalist acting; quite the reverse, he usually goes right over the top, and many people remember him for this aspect of his acting. As Pete Perkins, though, he shuffles and mumbles and gives everyone blank stares. There’s the occasional smile. Perhaps he was too involved with the direction of the movie to spend a lot of time on his characterization. Director/Actor Jones gave each cast member a copy of Albert Camus’ The Stranger to read so that they would understand alienation.
Barry Pepper, as the mean-spirited border-guard, takes on the role that Tommy Lee Jones usually plays to perfection, and he is the memorable figure after the credits have rolled and everyone has left the cinema.
Other actors that deserve mention are Levon Helm, ex-member of The Band, as the blind old man with the radio. And Melissa Leo as Rachel, the bored waitress and serial adulteress, who brings some joy into the life of Pete Perkins.
The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada is a film with a lot on its mind.
Although, generally, it looks good, especially the scenes of the Mexican desert (allegedly shot on Tommy Lee Jones’ own ranch), it failed for me by continually falling into cliché.
First of all it is over-the-top in its political correctness. The Texans are all bad guys and the Mexicans are all good guys. Throughout the length of the film we are subjected to gratuitous and prolonged violence (no minimalism here) which does nothing to enhance or further the plot.
We are given a lesson in how to make the audience hate the villain right from the word go. Wrap him in a tight uniform, show him as over-eager to prevent Mexican immigrants (wetbacks in the language of the film) crossing the border, give him a supply of hard-porn magazines and a tendency to whack himself off at a moments notice, arm him with a high velocity gun, and let him break a woman’s nose for trying to defend her husband.
Oh, yeah, and then show him screwing his wife from behind on the kitchen table while she is trying to concentrate on a televised soap-opera. (She still manages to get the soap-opera and we are not sure if she noticed she was being interfered with).
But the real failure of the film is in the sub-plot, which says that if you take a bad guy and subject him to extensive and prolonged violence, he’ll turn into a good guy, someone you can have a relationship with.
And the music is dire.