Film Review: The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada-R
Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Barry Pepper, Julio Cedillo
Directed by: Tommy Lee Jones
As Melquiades Lays Dying
One of William Faulkner’s best books, “As I Lay Dying,” tells the story of a family who go on a mission to bury their recently deceased mother in her hometown. The family embarks on a hard and treacherous journey through America’s deep South carrying their mother’s decaying body. Along the way they hit a number of snags, meet some interesting characters and face numerous conflicts among each other. The book was riddled with the darkest of dark humor but at the same time was an honest and moving look at simple people who just want to please their mother’s final wishes. Tommy Lee Jones directorial debut film, “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada,” is in no way an adaptation of Faulkner but would have made the brilliant American author proud nevertheless.
Melquiades Estrada (Julio Cedillo) is a Mexican cowboy who crosses the border illegally in search of work. He is befriended by Pete Perkins (Tommy Lee Jones), a soft-spoken, somber cowboy who sees Estrada not as a “border hopper” or “wetback,” as local police officers and border patrolmen call them, but as just another caballero working in the beautiful southwest. After an unfortunate accident involving a smug and careless border patrolmen from Ohio, Mike Norton (Barry Pepper), Estrada is shot and killed.
Fueled by a promise made to Estrada to bury his body in his small Mexican hometown, Perkins kidnaps Norton and takes him on a slow and arduous horseback journey across the border with Estrada’s decaying body riding with them.
“Estrada” is a film that is all about journeys. On the surface it is about the physical journey that Norton and Perkins undergo, navigating through the rough and unforgiving Mexican desert, however, the story is truly about the emotional journeys they take inside.
Norton is on a personal journey of accepting and understanding life in the Southwest and Mexico while Perkins’ journey is gaining an understanding of his duties to his dear friend.
“Estrada” was written by Guillermo Arriaga, a rising name in world cinema whose previous films “Amores Perros” and “21 Grams” both shared the same non-linear editing format that “Estrada” does. The film is wonderfully shot and directed proving that like so many other successful actor turned directors of the past (Clint Eastwood comes to mind) Jones has a promising career ahead of him.
Watching “Estrada” one can’t help but draw comparisons to authors like Faulkner and the more modern Cormac McCarthy or filmmakers like Sergio Leone and Sam Peckinpah. However, the film is unique in the fact that Lee manages to put his own personal touches in it. The film has its share of dark humor and melodramatic scenes, but above all it revels in themes of pure humanity and friendship at their finest.