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Break for the border
The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (DVD)
Member Name: steerpyke
The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (DVD)
Date: 23/08/06, updated on 23/08/06 (123 review reads)
Advantages: a deep intense and thoughtful film
Disadvantages: a bit dark and confrontational for some tastes
Please note this is a film only review and makes no mention of DVD format extras.
At a time when the world as at it most mistrusting in a cross cultural sense, with one secular or religious group suspiciously eying and pointing fingers at the next, this film, in many ways is well timed and very relevant. But with the focus on the middle east and 9/11 in films and on TV maybe for a more general understanding of cultural intolerance we need to step back a little further, forget the specifics and just view these problems from a higher, less specific position. Tommy Lee Jones directorial debut offers us this and much more besides. By focusing on a story that takes place over the Texas-Mexican border and the relationships and attitudes formed between the two sides, "The Three Burials of Meiquiades Estrada" acts as a microcosm of human nature and makes for a good analogy of a much bigger problem. Jones said in a recent interview "What I'd like the audience to take away is the realisation that its possible to look across the river and see yourself"
Whilst the basic plot is a simple one the way it plays is not, as you would expect from screen writer Guillermo Arriaga, the man that brought you 21 Grams, a film that has the same fractured storyline style as this. Simply put it is a story of a friendship, revenge and justice. But it's not the usual eye-for-an-eye justice usual to this sort of film, but more of a poetic justice, which raises this tale to the realms of parable whilst keeping it realistic and human. Pete Perkins (Tommy Lee Jones) is a grizzled ranch foreman who hires and then befriends illegal immigrant "Mel" Estrada. When Mel is found shot and hidden in the desert, the first of the three burials of the title, Pete resolves to take his friend s body over the border to bury him in his home town in Mexico. This is where his problems begin as he faces racism and deliberate awkwardness of the officials and Pete finds his only way out is to steal the body to do what is right by his friend. This puts him in conflict with a jaded border patrolman, Mike Norton (Barry Pepper) who becomes entwined in Pete's plans and carried along against his will.
Jones has created a real Tex-Mex back drop to play his story against, a contemporary western in the style of Peckenpah and especially referencing his 1974 nihilistic romantic "Bring me the Head of Alfredo Garcia" Its use of a killing to highlight the tensions in the heterogeneous southern frontier communities smacks also of John Sayles powerful "Lone Star". There is a lot of symbolism at work here and the characters themselves stand in for bigger concepts. The dead body of Estrada represents a complex question about the illegal immigrant, controversial and unplaceable. Throughout the course of the film his body is subjected to all number of horrors and ill treatment and is somehow transformed in the eyes of the view from the lifeless body of a lost and misplaced ordinary Mexican into an almost saintly figure being taken on a pilgrimage of grace towards his rightful resting place.
As you might expect the journey being undertaken here is not so much physical but more in the soul and neither is it Pete's journey that is the important one here. It is the rookie patrolman Norton, representing the sad, vacant, materialistic lives on the American side of the border who is forced to confront the world that he lives so close to yet has no understanding of and undergoes a forced evolution into the opposite of a wetback, wearing Estrada's discarded clothes as they head down Mexico way. It's one of those films that really leave you thinking about a lot of stuff, from mortality and loss to the very real problems of racism and inhumanity. It's never preachy or self-aware and isn't out to impress, it's just telling a story. I highly recommend this movie. Tommy Lee Jones is blessed to be working on his first venture with the great cinematographer Chris Menges. Mr. Menges' take on the scenery is one of the best things in the film, much of which was filmed on Jones own west Texas ranch. The musical score by Marco Beltrami is also another asset. The editing of Roberto Silvi sets the tone for the early part of the movie. The script is so well conceived that even though the characters do many misguided things, the viewer can still understand why they are the way they are, there's no polarised good and evil just intertwined human traits.
Jones film is a powder keg, filled with brutality, gallows humour and deep soul-searching questions, which explode in compassion when you are least expecting it. A great, challenging but ultimately very rewarding film.
Summary: destined to be a cult classic