Classic Review – The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2005)

Title – The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2005)

Director – Tommy Lee Jones (The Homesman)

Cast – Tommy Lee Jones, Barry Pepper, January Jones, Melissa Leo, Julio Cesar Cedillo, Dwight Yoakam

Plot – Texas ranch hand Pete Perkins (Jones) is heartbroken after the death of his best friend, illegal immigrant Melquiades Estrada (Cedillo), at the hands of border patrolman Mike Norton (Pepper). Taking matters into his own hands, Pete takes Mike on a perilous journey across the border in order to give Melquiades a proper burial.

“You’re good people. You need to go ahead and shoot me”

Review by Eddie on 05/08/2020

In his review of Tommy Lee Jone’s bleak directional debut, legendary film critic Roger Ebert declared that The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada is the type of film that esteemed directors John Huston or Sam Peckinpah may’ve made had they had the chance, a glowing endorsement of Jone’s effort, that sees the well-liked actor deliver a modern day western unlike any other, guided by the hand of Oscar nominated screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga.

Mostly ignored by the general public upon release, despite wins at the Cannes Film Festival for Jones as Best Actor and and Arriaga for Best Screenplay, this Palme d’Or nominated drama is heavy stuff (the exact type of grit you would expect from Jones) but its the type of moving and humanistic tale that seeps deep under the skin as we follow lonely Texan farm hand Pete Perkins on a journey too properly bury his recently unlawfully gunned down best friend Melquiades Estrada at the hands of Barry Pepper’s unhinged border patrolman Mike Norton.

Told initially in a non-linear way as we get an insight into the lives of those affected or a part of Estrada’s untimely demise, Burials takes its time in telling its story and offering brief but important examinations of those that inhabit Texan town of Van Horn, but each moment is never wasted as Jones and Arriaga create a no doubt depressing but clearly drenched in realism take on the American landscape, where the death of an illegal immigrant is no cause for concern for those dealing with their own real-world problems.

In a career littered with memorable turns, Burials is lead by an arguably never better Jones, who instills Perkins with a quiet but ever present rage and importantly humanity as he takes matters into his own hands when he takes Norton on a cross border escapade to ensure that Estrada is given the burial he so desperately desired back in his home country that he choose to flee in search of a better life for his family.

Watching Jones work his understated magic here is a thing of cinematic delight and his wonderfully supported by the always game Pepper (who gets put through his fair share of traumas here) and bit parts from Melissa Leo, Janurary Jones, Dwight Yoakam and Julio Cesar Cedillo, who all combine to give the small-budgeted but high-reaching effort a sense of real commitment and heart.

While its disappointing Burials isn’t talked about more when it comes to great examples of the modern day western setting or as an expose of the relationship between American citizens and those across its border, it’s not hard to see why, as Burials eschews entertainment for hard hitting moments, brutally honest examples of the best and worst of humanity and at its core an unconventional friendship that shows the importance of acceptance in each of our lives.

Not exactly the type of material that was made with popularity in mind.

Final Say – 

A unique and hard-hitting experience, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada marked a stunning directional debut from one of cinemas most well-respected performers and remains one of the 2000’s most memorable hidden gems.

4 1/2 snake bites out of 5 

6 responses to “Classic Review – The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2005)

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