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STEPHEN'S MOVIE GUIDE

The Three Burials Of Melquiades Estrada  rating

Review: written 2006

Low Key character driven latter day Western

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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