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on 18 February 2008
Tommy Lee Jones' sophomore effort (following his directorial debut THE GOOD OLD BOYS) is a wonderful movie of both beauty and complexity. Here we have a movie that works on so many different levels to deliver one of the finest american films in many a year.

Set on the border between Texas and Mexico, which is a hotspot for illegal crossings into the US, the movie unfolds as a simple tale of friendship. Ranch foreman Pete Perkins (played by Jones, on fine form) learning of the death of his mexican friend Melquiades Estrada (Julio Cesar Cedillo). Told with a non linear narrative - with the action moving back and forth, and scenes playing out in many a different order, the viewer is drawn into an absorbing film that follows a man's pain of losing his friend and what he will do to honor that friendship. Flipping the imigration angle on its head, Pete takes his dead friend back across the border to Mexico (instead of the other way round) where he can be at peace with his wife and family. However, accompanying Pete on his journey is Melquiades' murderer - Mike (played to perfection by Barry Pepper), a lost texas border patrolman, stuck in a loveless marriage and prone to fits of violent behaviour towards the illegally crossing mexicans - he must share the journey with Pete and seek redemption for his sins.

The film is as simple as that. A two hour trek across the border with Jones and Pepper, first at odds - then, at ease with each other. Its this simplicity and magnificent story telling that sets this film apart from any other. Beautifully shot, acted and written - this is a film of mood and metaphor. Relationships end and enemies become friends, people become stronger while others weaken and sometimes, police chiefs simply give up and go on vacation to Seaworld. Its that kind of movie.

The cast are excellent and Guillermo Arriags' screenplay is both sorrowful and life affirming. Jones as a director is equal to his talents as an actor - he really is that good. Taking time when it needs to and not letting the scenery overtake the story - this is a director at the top of his game and one can only look forward to what he has coming next.

Optimum's DVD is impressive. A superb transfer with all the usual assortment of extras - commentary and making of features. The 'making of' follows the movie through production and onto Cannes. All in all, a film of warmth and honesty, desperation and honour and well worth seeking out. Recommended.
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VINE VOICEon 3 December 2006
Superb effort from Tommy Lee Jones - this is both restrained and intense at the same time, telling a story of unexpected redemption. Fans of Jones or Westerns beware - this is no action movie or thriller - this is low key and driven by the characters. And what great characters they are, with superb performances, especially from Barry Pepper. The Texas / Mexico border atmosphere of decaying towns and morals is played unflinchingly, with a story being told amongst the minutiae of everyday life - how many movies zoom in on one of the main characters clipping their toenails while watching TV..? The alienation inherent in the small town where everyone knows everyone and yet are emotionally distant, is contrasted with the Jones character's deep friendship, if not platonic love, for his Mexican friend - to great effect.
The story has been covered in more detail elsewhere, but in a nutshell - a Mexican is shot by accident, and his friend (Jones) has promised him he would bury him in Mexico. He kidnaps the man responsible when the local police do nothing, and takes him on a journey to find the Mexican's home to bury him, and find some redemption along the way.
Barry Pepper plays the unpleasant, narcissistic and immature young border guard who goes unwillingly on a journey through which he comes of age. He plays it to perfection. Jones is the big surprise, both in his restrained performance of a man acting on deep friendship, loyalty and a sense of justice, and also in his direction of the movie. The cinematography captures the starkly beautiful scenery, and the editing cleverly tells the beginning of the story in a bravely non linear way which only adds to the strength and sense of the story.
Kudos to Jones, then, for taking thought provoking material like this and making a genuine minor classic out of it. It deservedly won the Cannes Festival best Actor and Best screenplay awards.
In short, a bleak, but ultimately uplifting movie most assuredly not for the action buffs, but for those who thrive on real characters in extraordinary circumstances. And did I mention the stunning scenery...?
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I suspected that "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada" had to be a pretty good story to not only get Tommy Lee Jones to work behind the camera as a director for the first time, but also to get him to once again play a cowboy taking the corpse of his friend home. What this 2006 film has in common with "Lonesome Dove" is not the transportation of a dead friend to his rightful final resting place, but rather the way the act defines both the man and the friendship. The important difference is that this time the character Jones plays takes another living soul along on the journey south.

Jones plays Pete Perkins, who runs a small cattle ranch and has hired Melquiades Estrada (Julio Cedillo), an illegal immigrant from Mexico, to work with him. When Melquiades is killed and the local sheriff (Dwight Yoakam) refuses to do anything about it, Pete takes care of matters himself. He finds out that a young Border Patrol agent, Mike Norton (Barry Pepper), killed Melquiades, Pete captures him. Norton had buried Melquiades to hide the crime and then the body was buried a second time. Now Pete makes Norton did up the body of the man he killed, and then they head off on horses to Mexico so that Pete's friend can be returned to his family and buried in the town of Jimenez south of the Border.

Essentially, then, you have three burials and a trip as the four key sections of the film. "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada" is not a suspense film, where we wonder if Pete is going to be able to carry off his plans. There are obstacles, but his success is never in doubt. Pete is very much from the worldly school where a man does what a man has to do, and despite what the situation might force him to do we never forget that the corpse is the body of his friend. Pursuing Pete and his captive is problematic since what Norton has done would become public knowledge, and this film is decidedly set in a fairly private world. The punishment Pete has selected is not simply punitive, it is instructive and whether the credit belongs to the director or to writer Guillermo Arriaga ("Amores perros") it must be said this movie ends at the perfect moment on the perfect line.

There are other characters, most notably January Jones as Lou Ann Norton, Melissa Leo as Rachel, and Levon Helm as the Old Man with the Radio, but they are relatively insignificant given what is happening with Jones and Pepper. Flashbacks are used to show both Pete's friendship with Melquiades and to let us know exactly how he ended up getting killed. Neither Pete nor Norton are privy to the other halves of the story, but then their purpose is primarily to allow us to know how each man came to be in this peculiar situation. This is not a story about revenge, it is a character study and an object lesson. What makes it powerful is the elegance of its simplicity, but the subject matter and the deterioration of the title character's body will not appeal to everyone's sensibilities.
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I didn't know quite what to expect with this movie but, after a fairly slow opening 30 minutes or so, it blindsided me by heading off on an unexpected path and, for the remaining hour and a half, I was totally hooked.

The central pair of Tommy Lee Jones and Barry Pepper are superb, as was January Jones as Pepper's bored wife. It was poignant too to see Levon Helm in one of his last roles. The wonderful scenery of the US/Mexican borderlands also made a truly spectacular backdrop.

Part mystery, part western, part road movie, part buddy movie and with a soupcon of black humour thrown in, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada will keep you enthralled and guessing to the very end.

Blu-ray image quality was perfect and 5.1 surround sound was used to good effect. Interviews and a making-of featurette complete the package. Don't expect rootin' tootin' shoot-outs but, if you're up for a slightly left-field movie that explores some fairly profound themes of cameraderie, consequences, revenge, obsession and redemption, then give this a try.
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on 30 May 2016
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on 13 August 2006
Saw Three Burials on a flight from HK back to the UK. Watched it because I couldn't find anything else that sparked my interest. Was glad I did, as it was one of the best films I have seen in a very long time. Very un-American in its construct and any feel-good factor coming from the storyline was unconventional in nature. I highly recommend this refreashing film.
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VINE VOICEon 13 September 2006
The film is set on the U.S./Mexican border and initially concerns the lives of those who farm the local land or patrol the vast expanses of nothingness in a bid stop illegal immigrants crossing an invisible line. Life is desperate for the local women folk and they resort to affairs in an effort to spice things up, the men just satisfy themselves. A farmhand is killed and Tommy Lee Jone's character (a quiet man-with-no-name character) forces the killer to join him in returning the victims body to his homeland; a far away Mexican village. Three Burials echoes the simplicity of the great westerns of the Sixties, albeit with the occasionally nod to dark Lynch-ian humour. It reminded me a lot of "Stand By Me", in that not a lot actually happens, but its enough just to see the two characters develop and change as they slowly make their way through the landscape. It's kind of a buddy movie too, but with the caveat that neither of the men have anything in common and have no chance of ever ending up as buddies. Recommended.
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on 20 November 2006
I was first attracted to the advert in a newspaper for this movie when I saw the picture of St Elena Canyon in Big Bend National Park where I had been visiting the previous year ( another five star rating as one of the USA's dramatic but one of the least visited National Parks by the way), then I saw Tommy Lee Jones was the director and guessed an excellent story was in the making. My girlfriend and I were not disappointed in any way. The plot is surreal and unfolds gradually and cleverly. If all you normally like are blockbuster Hollywood movies, then this film is not for you; but if you like the unravelling styles of Memento , Dogville or Road to Perdition and enjoy a real top notch tale then you will be warmly satisfied with The Three Burials.
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on 22 February 2016
This is a thoughtful, quiet and essentially character-driven piece, with solid performances all around. Tommy Lee Jones directs in an un-showy manner, aided and abetted by the sometimes striking photography of the arid Texas-Mexico borderland by DP Chris Menges. Composer Marco Beltrami contributes a sparse by effective music score.

The picture quality of the UK release from Optimum is okay but nothing to rave about. Readers should be aware that the transfer is single layered rather than double layered and is 1080i (i.e. interlaced) rather than being 1080p (progressive). I don't know what Optimum think they are doing. If you really like the film, then apparently the German release from Ascot Elite (which is English friendly) is the one to go for, with noticeably superior PQ.
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In the beginning this reminded me of The Border (1982) starring Jack Nicholson and Harvey Keitel. A new border guard and his wife arrive in a south Texas town and live in a trailer. She's bored stiff while her husband learns the new job and the border patrol culture. However instead of all the corruption that Jack Nicholson found, here we find that it is the new border guard who is morally corrupt. What is surprising is how easily Three Burials gradually turns into a 21st century Western with the classic revenge theme played out in a most dramatic way.

Tommy Lee Jones stars as Pete Perkins, a weathered cowboy somewhat past his prime who befriends a Mexican--the Melquiades Estrada (Julio Cedilla) of the title--who has come across the border. One day when the new border guard Mike Norton is out in the hills looking for wetbacks (actually horny Mike has a Hustler magazine in his hands and his pants half down, and he's about to do something else) he hears a rifle shot nearby. He pulls his pants up, runs to his vehicle, grabs his rifle and then just shoots the first target he sees. It's Melquiades Estrada. And he is now dead. Turns out Melquiades was shooting at a coyote that was after his herd of goats.

Meanwhile (back at the ranch, so to speak) Mike Norton's wife Lou Ann (January Jones), still bored to tears, has become friends with Rachel (Melissa Lee), a saucy waitress who sets up an adulterous double date with Pete (for her) and Melquiades (for Lou Ann). Well, this could get complex and lead to trouble big time for somebody. Maybe.

Dwight Yoakam plays a sheriff named Belmont who is being harangued by Pete to find out who shot Melquiades. But Belmont is in no hurry since this is just a wetback and especially since it looks like it might have been a border patrol shooting. I forget why the body is dug up the first time but the second comes after Pete learns from Rachel that it was Mike Norton who pulled the trigger. Pete takes the law into his own hands and kidnaps Mike and makes him dig up the somewhat decomposing body the second time. Pete is sworn to take the body of his friend back to the little town from which Melquiades sprang. Mike in handcuffs is going along for the ride. And a hellish ride it will be. The third burial comes near the end of the film, and you can guess who's going to do the digging.

What makes this work is the fine acting all around and the realistic feel created by Tommy Lee Jones. The trek south is filled with adventure and danger, and along the way Mike begins a forced atonement for his crime. The character of Pete Perkins is one you'll not soon forget. He is an eccentric hero, strong and morally steadfast. It's an interesting tale very well presented with a lot of color and atmosphere.

See this for Tommy Lee Jones who gives a fine performance directing himself in his feature film directorial debut.
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