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98 of 110 people found the following review helpful
on May 24, 2006
This is a great film replete with suggestive symbols of grace, redemption, magical thinking, loss and the boundaries that are personal, cultural, and spiritual, not merely geographic. Ironically, when a dreamless, aimless Barry Pepper, who seems already past his prime at 30 becomes a member of the border patrol, he shoots an anonymous Mexican (Jones's blood brother so to speak)--and not even having the sympathy to try to help him--in fact, not having the humanity to even touch him as he lies bleeding to death--is more concerned about his job than another human being. In this case the Mexican to him is merely a type, not really a person. On the other hand Tommy Lee Jones, who sees the person behind the persona, is more concerned about the soul than the outward trappings of language or labels. When he discovers his friend dies at the hands of Pepper, Jomes sits in his friend's modest shack just to feel his presence--to commune with his dead friend, as a means of coming to terms with his grief. Faced with the indifferent locals who would rather save their butts than save their souls, Jones takes it on himself to become the humanizing agent in a mercenary world. Forcing the border guard at gunpoint to accompany his friend to his final burial place, he traverses a bleak land that could be the Eliot's wasteland or the underworld. When he brings his friend home, he finds to his surprise, this beloved Mexican town is not what it is described to be. But as he understands that sometimes the imagination fulfills a purpose that life cannot, dignifies the death of his friend and redeems the humanity of the border guard. This film shows how human relations matter; how the electronic media are mere illusion producing devices; and even an old cowboy's body can find the fountain of youth by sticking to basic principles of human decency and understanding, and even the most direloneliness can be overcome even miles from home.
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34 of 37 people found the following review helpful
I'm a western movie lover. This was a movie that really scratched that itch. Tommy Lee Jones is terrific and shows once again what a fine actor he really is. Julio Cedillo, as Melquiades Estrada, is an excellent actor and also, ladies, very handsome. All in all, it is really an excellent movie.

The tale is one of deep friendship between two people that come from different worlds.....and the border that divides two countries as well as peoples' souls. It is a story of loyalty and dedication in the face of adversity. The scenery is excellent and the content is amazingly accurate, i.e. capturing the area of wilderness that lies in Texas and in Mexico.

It is a bit harsh at times, being that Tommy Lee Jones literally has his buddy dug up, after he is murdered, and then carts him back to his home in Mexico to be buried, all the while dragging with him an obnoxious and disgusting border patrol agent. You get over the harshness rather quickly, though, as you come to understand the principles behind the man and his actions.

Highly recommended, the movie takes you away from present day societal craziness for a while, and plunks you into present day rural craziness for a while. It was great.
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31 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on June 30, 2006
The movie may be misunderstood as being some kind of set-piece for the current illegal alien controversy, but I think it was intended to be much more and much deeper than that, if I've understood anything at all about Tommy Lee Jones. My viewpoint is different from most because I lived for years in the Trans-Pecos region of West Texas. I've jeeped in vast, wild areas there with nothing but a companion, food, beer, and our weapons. I loved the Mexican people who lived there, along with the other "gringos" like me, who were often misfits, derelicts, outcasts from the defunct oil fields, and more than a few borderline criminals in a savagely cruel border land.

Enough color.

My wife hated the movie, and I don't think many women will like it. It's a man's movie, as most of Mr. Jones' movies are. The appeal is limited to Westerners, I think, because I doubt that anyone seeing this in, say, Indianapolis, or Boston, will have any idea what the hell it's all about, or that such a thing could even be possible. It can. Actually, I'd say that if I read about such a thing happening in the El Paso Times it wouldn't surprise me overly. Nobody ever went jeeping in the Daylight Draw from the Rio Grande up to Sierra Blanca, Texas, without a revolver and a rifle, but how do you explain why that it is to someone who's never been west of the Pecos River?

Well, it's about a man, his friend, the man's anger, the man's outrage over the death of his friend, and the relentless, untiring pursuit of justice, set in an ancient, hostile, horribly beautiful country, surprisingly little disturbed by "civilized" men since the Spanish blundered over it centures ago. And it's about indifference, shallow stupidity, crude sex, and the infliction of TV on rural Mexicans. I don't know which is worse... but it seasons the flavor of what you, the viewer, come to see as the utter reality of such a place in this time.

Mr. Pepper's performance is surprising, authentic, and probably more like that of some poor interloper from Indianapolis than anything else. He ought to be nominated for an Academy Award, but he won't be. Tommy Lee Jones really appears as himself, by contrast. Honest, loyal, devoted, hard as flint, and very, very West Texas. Mil gracias, Senior Jones!
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
Let's face it, 2006-2007 have been two of the worse years in movie-making history. It seems like the well-thought-out drama has become extinct and given way to the slash-up-a-tourist or demon genres. Even the indy circuit seems pressed to deliver agenda-laden films instead of stories that speak to us. Upon viewing The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, however, I now know there is still hope.

It is clear that Jones poured his heart and soul into directing this film and for someone who co-starred in perhaps the western genres greatest story ever - Lonesome Dove - Jones was just the man to direct and star in this movie.

The story (written mastefully by Guillermo Arriaga) settles in on a friendship between two cowboys. One is a Texan (Jones) and the other is a gentle Mexican named Melquiades (Julio Cedillo). We see through flashbacks that the two men develop a quick and dynamic bond. This bond is so strong that it survives the death of Melquiades, who is killed by a trigger-happy and thoughtless border guard named Mike Norton (Barry Pepper). Pete Perkins (played by Jones) is determined to bury his friend in a town Melquiades called home while living in Mexico and makes sure that Norton comes along for the journey, willingly or otherwise.

Seldom have I witnessed a message as pure as the one found in this film, and that message revolves around the boundlessness of true friendship. Friendship does not come lightly to Pete Perkins as he sets out to honor the memory of his friend while at the same time attempting to teach Norton that real redemption comes at a high cost.

As for the last 10 minutes of the film, words cannot suffice. You will simply have to watch it and sit in awe of the power that comes from understanding wholly and completely the dreams of another and making them your own. It is here, at the end of the journey, where we see the world as Perkins sees it, and as Melquiades first saw it.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on July 19, 2006
"The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada" - WOW! This is an excellent film experience. The characters are quirky, yet believable and the desert scenery spectacular. Tommy Lee Jones has "hit the ball out of the park" with this movie! It was awesome to see Dwight Yoakam again in a "super bubbafied" role as the sheriff - reminded me of ole Doyle in "Slingblade" - what a redneck jackass! Barry Pepper (border patrol officer) is stewed in his own juices throughout the film and remains convincing despite the extreme circumstances under which he is placed. Tommy Lee Jones with his deadpan twang (no nonsense) is a natural - you just hate to see him ride off into the sunset at the end. *****FIVE STARS!
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on July 8, 2006
The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada is my new favorite film. It takes place in West Texas and in Mexico. The landscape is rough, barren in places, yet indescribably beautiful. The people resemble the land: they are not shiny and perfectly groomed, but rugged, worn down by life (as opposed to erosion). They have been in the sun without SPF 50 and a protective L.L. Bean hat. They don't go to the gym. Beer is good.

Basic plot: Pete, a cowboy, kidnaps Mike, the shallow racist cop who has accidently killed Pete's friend, Melquiades. Pete forces Mike to dig up Melquiades' body and live with that body and see the life of the man that he killed -- his room, his plate, his fork, his cup. I love the premise that if you take a life you need to acknowledge that life. Pete shows Mike: This is where Melquiades lived, this is where he came from, this is what death smells like. You caused this death, now you can breathe in the details, however unpleasant they might be. I found this to be a profound statement about the value of life -- that we are individuals with stories and habits and places or people that we love. And when you take a life, you take away more than just breath and heartbeat -- there are repercussions, there is suffering. In this film, there's no simplistic Eye for an Eye; instead the killer is forced to consider the life of his victim -- where the victim came from, what his dreams consisted of, and what he's changed into physically since that bullet entered his body. Pete and Mike and Melquiades from this point take a journey to Mexico to bury Melquiades. There is a lot of dark humor in this film, some surreal moments, great dialogue, gorgeous cinematography, wonderful colors and light. Certain scenes played in my head long after the film ended. A particular favorite takes place in a Mexican bar -- whiskey, a sunset, an open window, Mexican sci-fi on t.v., a little girl playing Chopin on a grimy-keyed piano.

The DVD is great, although in the "details" on Amazon it mentions as extras a film about Cannes and a Making Of short and a discussion between Jones and screenwriter Arriaga, but instead of those features there is a full-film commentary between Tommy Lee Jones, Dwight Yoakam, and January Jones. I was cool with this, as I love commentaries where they take you thru the entire film. This one started a little slow, same as when any group of people sit down and start talking, but got better and better as it went along, the actors becoming more relaxed, lots of great details and location info and nice little rambles about Roger Miller and Dwight Yoakam's fear of snakes. I would recommend this film highly, as it's one of those flicks that barely played anywhere (I had to drive three hours to catch it at a theater)so a lot of people missed the year's best film.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
In the last episode of the magnificent 1989 TV miniseries LONESOME DOVE, set in the last quarter of the 19th century American West, Captain Woodrow Call (Tommy Lee Jones) schleps by pack horse the body of his long-time trail pard Gus MacRae (Robert Duvall) back to south Texas from the latter's death place in Montana. It's a long, hard ride. Here, in THE THREE BURIALS OF MELQUIADES ESTRADA, Tommy Lee's role is very reminiscent of his earlier one, but this time in a contemporary setting and much more grisly.

As TBoME opens, two hunters in the Texas desert come across the coyote-ravaged body of a male Hispanic that had been hidden in the brush - the First Burial. He's identified as an illegal alien ranch worker - "undocumented immigrant" laborer according to PC terminology - by the local authorities, and subsequently buried in a pauper's grave - the Second Burial. He'd been shot to death by an unknown assailant.

In flashback, we see that the dead man was Melquiades Estrada (Julio Cedillo), a Mexican vaquero working on a local Texan ranch, where he'd been befriended by American cowboy Pete Perkins (Jones). The two had become compadres, drinking and womanizing together - real Guy Stuff. In a moment of sentimentality, Perkins promised to convey Estrada's body back home to an isolated, tiny hamlet in northern Mexico should the latter ever die on the U.S. side of the border. Melquiades shows Perkins a picture of his wife and writes out rough directions to the place, just in case.

The only evidence at the scene of the shooting is a spent rifle cartridge, which, to Pete's experienced eyes, could only belong to the U.S. Border Patrol. He's enraged when that agency refuses to investigate further into the death of his friend. Later, through a third party, Perkins learns the identity of the shooter, border patrolman Mike Norton (Barry Pepper), who regards illegal border crossers as something less than human. Pete saddles up and sets about fulfilling his promise to Melquiades, while taking the opportunity to teach Mike a well-deserved lesson. By this time in the screen action, however, the viewer has also seen a flashback to the circumstances surrounding Estrada's death, which perhaps leaves the audience with a trace of pity for the otherwise unlikable Norton.

While a tangential (un)intended effect of TBoME is to engender sympathy for the thousands of impoverished illegals crossing America's southern border every year, the main message is one of God's righteous retribution. And who better to be its deliverer than the craggy, weather-beaten, and tough Jones? (For all I know, God's visage is that of Tommy Lee.) In LONESOME DOVE, Cap'n Call declares that he won't tolerate rude behavior in a man after having given an appropriate thumping to a loutish Army scout. Here, Perkins has that same aversion, and proceeds to demonstrate to a level that perhaps has the viewer wondering if he's a bit too zealous in making his point. However, Divine Justice can be hard and gritty, especially in south Texas.

I saw TBoME at a private studio screening in November of '05. Coming out, I thought it, like THE LIBERTINE starring Johnny Depp, would not be amenable to a holiday season release. It's definitely not a picture for the frivolous only out for a dinner & movie feel-good experience. This is a tough and uncompromising morality play about private responsibility, personal accountability, friendship, loyalty, and redress of a wrong. As such, it may be limited to the movie art houses, and is worth seeking out if it's not at your local megaplex in company with the usual cinematic fluff.

TBoME isn't Best Picture material, but I'm giving five stars because it makes its point forcefully and faultlessly, and Tommy Lee Jones is in top form.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon February 20, 2006
MOVIE: It seems like every actor is trying their hand at directing nowadays. Kevin Costner, Mel Gibson, George Clooney, Denzel Washington, and John Malkovich are examples of actors who have tried their handywork behind the camera. Ron Howard and Clint Eastwood are two that have basically made the switch and now exclusively work behind the camera. Tommy Lee Jones' directorial debut is nothing short of amazing cinema. The western is making a comeback (too bad everyone forgot about Leone) and some of Hollywood's best is tackling the genre. This film is about a rancher named Pete (Tommy Lee Jones) and his good friend Melquiades, who is an illegal alien working for him. They bond together as they work on the ranch, sharing past experiences and a longing for something more in their lives. On the other side of the equation we have Mike Norton (Barry Pepper) who has moved to Texas with his wife so he can work with Border Patrol. The film opens when two border patrolmen discover the body of Melquiades half buried under a bush, and the first act is told out of sequence. We jump forward in time and back to reveal the situation. Norton is shown as this man with no tolerance and no regard for anyone. In one scene while his wife is in the kitchen making dinner he comes in and just has sex with her as she lays over the counter, during the whole thing she just watches tv. So you can see the relationship they have together. Later in the film she resorts to prostitution to try and find a mean of entertaining herself, and she ends up spending a somewhat intimate moment with Melquiades, but Norton never knows it so it has nothing to do with what happens next. One day when Melquiades is herding some of the goats out to graze he sees a coyote and fires at it. Norton, off in the distance at his stakeout mistakes this for gunfire aimed at him and he fires back and kills him without thinking twice. Then we see the second burial of Melquiades. The film is seprated into 4 parts: the first burial of Melquiades Estrada, the second burial of Melquiades Estrada, the journey, and the third burial of Melquiades Estrada. Before the journey ensues we have a scene where Pete bursts in on Norton in his home and beats him up, cuffs him, and instructs him to dig up Melquiades. We then flashback to a conversation that Pete had with Melquiades and how Melquiades made Pete promise that if he ever dies here in Texas that Pete would take his body back to his homtown in Jimenez. Now the journey ensues as Pete forces Norton with him to take Melquiades back to Jimenez. The film is very well done, and the characters are fleshed out before the second act of the film so the audience is very involved. We have Pete, who is doing this for closure for his friend, but the audience never really fully understands Pete's reasoning for being so hostile. Norton takes quite a beating throughout the film, but it all serves for his redemption and to show a change of character. There is also an underlaying humor to the film, but it's a dark humor. There are intense scenes and will hold your attention and basically make you think "what the hell?!?", and the film's conclusion leaves a lot for interpretation. The characters really don't come full circle in their journey, basically the starting point and the end point are nowhere near to each other on the map. It's an amazing film that will captivate you and really shake you. Tommy Lee Jones does a superb job at maintaing a constant vision, I guess he felt so at home behind the camera since the movie was filmed on his ranch in Texas.

ACTING: Tommy Lee Jones got a Best Actor award at Sundance, and when you see the movie you'll know why. He handles the character superbly, revealing some but not all about who Pete really is. Barry Pepper gives a full throttle performance showing different ranges of emotion from being extremely angry, being stubborn, being scared, frustrated, and resentful. The two of them share the most screen time in the movie, but they really never interact. Then, when you think about it the movie wouldn't work without one of them. The acting was fine work, and Tommy Lee Jones should be proud with what he has done in front of and behind the camera.

BOTTOM LINE: Shot on the open landscapes of mountain ranges, deserts, and prairies of Texas and Mexico; The Three Burials Of Melquiades Estrada is a haunting film about personal journies and redemption. Fine performances with Jones' superb direction along with a subtle yet powerful score make this movie a gem worth looking for. It's a shame that this never got a wide release, I mean, it was only playing in 1 theater in my entire state. Luckily the theater was 5 minutes from my house. It'll be hard to find, but make sure you look for it on DVD.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on September 26, 2007
The spirit of Sam Peckinpah lives on (sans slo-mo) in "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada". Director Tommy Lee Jones casts himself as a contemporary Texas cowboy named Pete who befriends a Mexican "vaquero" (the namesake of the movie's title). Estrada is an illegal looking for steady work and a brighter future here in the land o'plenty. Jones utilizes flashbacks to illustrate the growing kinship between the two compadres, who bond in the usual "cowboy way"-drinkin' and whorin',sleeping under the stars, and reaching a general consensus that A Cowboy's Life Is The Life For Me (as a great man once sang.) In the key vignette, Estrada confides that, if "something" should ever happen to him, he wishes to be buried in his home town. In half-drunken sentiment, Pete vows to see it through if the unthinkable happens. Guess what happens next?

When Estrada is mysteriously killed, Pete becomes incensed by the indifference of the local authorities, who seem reluctant to investigate. When he learns through the grapevine that his friend was the victim of negligent homicide, thanks to a boneheaded border patrol officer (Barry Pepper), he goes ballistic. He abducts the officer, forces him to dig up the hastily buried Estrada, and informs him that the three amigos are taking a little horseback trip to Mexico (and it ain't gonna be anything like "Weekend at Bernie's").

Much unpleasantness ensues as the story evolves into a "man on a mission to fulfill an oath" tale...on the surface. Despite the simplistic setup, astute viewers will begin to realize that there is a deeper, mythic subtext; this is one of those films that can really sneak up on you. Although my initial reaction was more visceral than philosophical (I didn't find any of the characters particularly likeable, it started to feel overlong, and I was repulsed by some of the more graphic scenes) I eventually realized that I had just been taken on an Orphic journey, and it suddenly all made sense. The film gives you hope that, despite the rampant cynicism that abounds in this world, there is something to be said for holding true to a personal code that covets friendship, loyalty and a deep sense of honor.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon December 1, 2007
I love the classic westerns of the 60's and 70's, but sadly many of today's modern westerns just don't live up. Other than the occasional movie like "Lone Star," western fans are lost in the desert. "Unforgiven" was outrageously overrated, and also so has most everything Clint Eastwood has done in the past 30 years as actor and/or director. Besides of course the slew of awesome 60's and 70's westerns, for me "Dirty Harry" was the last good thing Eastwood has done. I'm sorry but "Unforgiven" just didn't do it for me. Entertaining: yes. Best Picture deserved: nope.

Then, just out of the clear blue, we get this! A masterpiece from a first time director! Where did this come from? Where did you get this, Tommy? Why were you holding out on us? I had written Tommy Lee Jones completely off due to his terribly mediocre script choices over the past 10 years and then he goes and pulls this out! I put off seeing it until now because of the same reason. I mean folks, the man has done more than his share of paycheck cashing movies over the past decade since he made his post-"Fugitive" comeback.

I watched this with a combination of sheer cinematic joy and pleasant bewilderment. Bewilderment that Tommy Lee Jones made this amazing movie, this amazing movie that I never would have thought he had it in him. Not to mention his great acting, by the way.

At first blush this is a solid 9/10 to 9.5/10. Way to go Tommy!
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