Thursday, March 30, 2006


GUY'S NIGHT OUT: The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, he said 5.0

"The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada" is actor Tommy Lee Jones' theatrical directorial debut and the first great movie of the year. It is a movie that completely envelopes you in its world, a world that is mundane and fascinating at the same time. Jones finds beauty in what many would describe as boring. Both in the lives of the citizens of a small Texas border town and the landscapes that surround them.

The story shows that every human life is of value. It is a captivating story of both the beauty and absurdity of life and a moving portrait of redemption. The movie begins when two men discover a coyote digging up a body in the desert. This body was that of Mexican cowboy Melquiades Estrada (Julio Cedillo). The first half of the movie shows intercutting stories of how Melquiades came to Texsas and was hired by Pete (Jones), how their friendship formed, new Border Patrol agent Mike Norton (Barry Pepper) and his young wife Lou Ann (January Jones) moving to town, how Melquiades was killed by Mike, the non-investigation into his death by Sheriff Belmont (Dwight Yoakam), local waitress Rachel's affairs with both Belmont and Pete, how Melquiades was seeing Lou Ann, Pete's investigation into Melquiades' death, and the first two burials. This part of the story immerses the audience into the slow and simple pace of life on the border. We meet the townfolks and see how they fill their lives with work and recreational "trouble."

Once Pete discovers that Mike is responsible for the death of Melquiades, the movie really kicks into gear. Pete kidnaps Mike and the two set off for Mexico on horseback (pursued by the Border Patrol) to fulfill a promise to bury Mel (the third titular burial) in his hometown of Jiminez. But this is not a story of vengeance, rather, it is a story of redemption. The story is almost completely linear from here on out and the small town setting is replaced by beautiful countryside. There are lots of long lingering shots of the landscapes that underscore the nature of this journey. It is a journey of redemption as Mike must literally walk in Mel's shoes.

When so many movies are filled with death left and right, it is refreshing to see a movie that focuses on the effects of one man's death, a seemingly "unimportant" man, on the lives of those around him. The movie is a demonstration of the importance of every man's life. It also shows the absurdity of life and death (the movie is filled with black humor such as when Pete pumps antifreeze into the mouth of his friend's corpse in order to preserve it for the remainder of the journey). It shows the importance of relationships (see the haunting request of the old man who had no one). It shows a moving journey of redemption. And it teaches one to value the good things in life (a soap opera plays a touching role in Mike's journey). It is filled with interesting characters who are connected in unexpected, but not coincidental, ways.

Judging by box office receipts, very few people have seen (or are even aware of) this movie, which is why I have spent more time than usual describing the plot. I strongly encourage everyone who has the chance to to see this movie.

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