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Overall Rating

Awesome: 26.67%
Worth A Look68.89%
Average: 2.22%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 2.22%

4 reviews, 21 user ratings

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Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, The
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by Erik Childress

"For Those Who Prefer Their Westerns Pudding Free"
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2005 TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: When John Sayles ended his Lone Star with the line, “Forget the Alamo”, it was advice to be well heeded. The boundaries between the United States and Mexico will always represent more than just an invisible line many Americans wished never be crossed. It’s a line of freedom, second chances and historical fortitude that carries seeds of hatred and an Old West built on blood and tradition. Tommy Lee Jones clearly feels a connection to the land as a native Texan and takes the finale of Lonesome Dove to new levels with his directorial debut; a poetic tribute to a dying breed and a Peckinpahesque examination of friendship and kept promises.

As written by Guillermo Arriaga, the scribe behind such fractured narratives as Amores Perros and 21 Grams, Burials is another zigzagging structure that pieces together a mystery before focusing its journey directly into a forgotten past. Jones plays Pete Perkins, a ranch foreman who’s just discovered that his co-worker and best friend, Melquaides Estrada (Julio Cesar Cedillo) has been murdered. The sheriff (Dwight Yoakam) is no friend to Pete and without a family to make decisions on his behalf, Melquaides is given a cheap burial after an even cheaper investigation bears results hardly to Pete’s satisfaction.

New to the area is border patrolman Mike Norton (Barry Pepper, again offering solid work) and his wife, Lou Ann (January Jones). He’s a lout of a hubby, bending her over the nearest counter for his pleasure and an even more heartless officer. Good at chasing down illegals making a run for the invisible line but poor at treating them as human beings once caught. Could his careless eagerness to fulfill his duty have cost a man his life? Pete seems to think so and kidnaps Norton on a mission of penance to bury his friend proper in the homeland to which he vowed.

We’ve seen many stories about injustices corrected by an unsatisfied party by committing a crime of equal or lesser value. Always driven by emotion or a screenwriter with a political beef to rectify, the crusader is easy to identify with as the deck is usually stacked in his favor. Arriaga’s screenplay sidesteps the manhunt portion quickly after it begins to focus less on the criminality of Pete’s behavior but the journey of amendment he wishes Mike to endure. Through it all, similar to Ralph Fiennes in The Constant Gardener, he comes to a greater understanding of his fallen compadre and the appreciation of the time they spent together only grows from there.

The cowboy within Tommy Lee Jones is evident in nearly every frame of Burials, even when the rugged actor isn’t on screen. The lives of these hard-workin’ individuals have a connection to America’s past that will likely live on forever as the “dying breed” thrust into corners of a country that barely makes room for them anymore. Part of that depreciation is evident in Jones’ reserved, but tough performance. Pete sees himself as an equal to Melquaides, tranquil with little family or friends to surround each other with who may have nothing more than a cowboy’s life until the day of their death. And its an undisturbed life that offers no complaints until a bullet carelessly snuffed out more than just one forever.

The introspective cowboy was a staple of probably more Peckinpah features than his signature violence and Burials is a tribute on all levels. Jones shows a sure hand as a director, juggling the early cross-editing before settling into a patient straight narrative magnified by Chris Menges’ gorgeous cinematography. In many respects, Jones was the perfect director to take on this material, feeding it with his own reverence for the Texan landscape and the pieces of the human condition that he’s taken from every Western he’s ever seen and every role he’s played within the genre. Most actors take on more simplistic subjects for their first foray behind the camera, but Jones confidently braces himself on the shoulders of Arriaga’s solid script and the sensibilities of the cowboy that lives within. By the end of the journey, I’m sure both Melquaides and Peckinpah would have found peace.

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originally posted: 12/14/05 16:18:51
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Toronto Film Festival For more in the 2005 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/27/17 Anne Selby One of the best 5 films I've ever seen 5 stars
6/14/12 tommy still in shock, amazing job by TLJ, Pepper shines 5 stars
11/25/07 g webster I really liked this film.Jones does an excellent job. 4 stars
8/14/07 Garry Not your typical Hollywood plot. I liked it. 4 stars
3/27/07 MP Bartley Hard opening 20 minutes to crack, but it develops into a charming and heartfelt parable. 4 stars
9/24/06 Phil M. Aficionado Barring a couple of far fetched plot twists, and some "jumpiness" it's a first rate beauty 4 stars
8/13/06 Danny I was pleasantly surprised, actually a very good movie. 4 stars
8/08/06 Indrid Cold OK, but mostly just comes across as ponderous and annoyingly politically correct. 3 stars
7/31/06 Jim Crappy. Story line was less believable than Shaggy Dog 1 stars
6/09/06 john bale Tommy Lee Jones excells in this gritty drama - one of the best films this year 5 stars
5/23/06 Gideon beautiful photography, great acting 5 stars
4/10/06 the untrained eye Like staring at a beautiful south western still life 4 stars
3/19/06 Marlene Winter Why wasn't this film nominated for an Oscar?! Psychologically and visually gripping. A su 5 stars
3/07/06 Elizabeth Simply excellent. 5 stars
2/18/06 Gary U Like a good wine, complex and lingering. Well done! 5 stars
2/10/06 m a timely film re: everyone's right to be mourned 5 stars
12/16/05 Kathy Fitzgerald A masterpiece-see it 5 stars
11/30/05 Carlos Reyes Wow, what a great film. One of the year's best without doubts.The Screenplay is awesome!!! 5 stars
11/21/05 Dora Great. Poetic. Deep. 5 stars
10/01/05 Carlos Reyes Oscars Get Ready, Arriaga makes an awesome script and tommy is great directing and acting. 5 stars
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  14-Dec-2005 (R)
  DVD: 06-Jun-2006



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