DOASKDOTELL MOVIE REVIEW of The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, The Mexican


Title:  The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada

Release Date:  2005

Nationality and Language: USA, English/Spanish

Running time: 121 min

MPAA Rating: R

Distributor and Production Company: Sony Pictures Classics

Director; Writer: Tommy Lee Jones, wr. Guillermo Arriaga


Cast:  Tommy Lee Jones, Barry Pepper, January Jones, Melissa Leo

Technical: Full 2:3 to 1

Relevance to DOASKDOTELL site:  westerns?


This film came out just a little after “Brokeback Mountain” with an accidental coincidence that most of it is a story of a relationship between two male characters. Here, it is a bit of a setup. Border Patrol Agent Mike Norton (Barry Pepper) has accidentally killed Mexican friend Melquiades Estrada of a rancher Peter Perkins (Tommy Lee Jones) with a high powered rifle. Peter takes him on an odyssey across the Rio Grande to force him to give the victim a proper burial, and then lets him go. The interplay between the two men dominates the second half of the film, and makes the world of marriage and family and home seem remote indeed; carrying out a moral fable seems more of a priority.


The journey is a spectacle, with all kinds of hazards along the way. A mule falls off a cliff. Noron gets bit by a rattlesnake and is dragged across the Rio Grande at the St. Elena Canyon in Big Bend, and his leg is saved only by home remedies. The film often imparts that barren look to West Texas, as do Jack Twist's scenes in "Brokeback." There is also a visual interplay between a life based on landscape and wildlife, like Old Mexico, and modernism, with the helicopters and police cars.


But this is primarily an exercise in filmmaking style and visual storytelling. The initial killing is retold several times out of sequence, as we learn that Mike is very aggressive and macho in his job, and looks at Hustler magazine to jerk off out in the desert—that’s when he gets into trouble. The culture of the whole film is heterosexist to the core. Mike is barren, hairless in body (except perhaps for his legs), but he makes up for appearances with aggressive performance, sodomizing his wife in one scene that hardly evokes the Song of Solomon.


This curious film kind of parodies other slow moving modern westerns, including “Paris, Texas,” and “Lone Star” as well as “The Mexican.” Switch casts with Brokeback mountain and you would not have anything that works. Pepper can be mean, Gyllenhaal cannot (even in Jarhead).


The direction of the film is interesting, even if the storytelling is choppy. One can compare this film to the work of Ang Lee, Gus Van Sant, and even John Sayles. 


The Mexican (2001, Dreamworks, dir. Gore Verbinski) is a bit of a comedy western with a similar premise. Jerry Welbach tries to transport a pistol called The Mexican over the border, while a girlfriend Samantha played by (Julia Roberts) tries to reform him. The film goes on a physical journey into Mexico, past an interesting traffic intersection and through a tunnel to get to a small town for the showdowns. Sami gets held hostage by a bizarre gay hitman Leroy (Sherman Augustus).


Related reviews:. Brokeback Mountain    Lone Star


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