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The last time I saw Tommy Lee Jones waxing lyrical in Spanish amidst the undulating terrain of the US-Mexico border was in Men In Black. The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada is something quite different. For one, Jones is no longer the law enforcement; rather he is the renegade friend and cowboy who drags a zealous new border patrol agent (a ruggedly sexy yet juvenile Barry Pepper) on a crosscountry trek to complete the third burial of his best friend Melquiades (Julio Cesar Cedillo). But the Men In Black comparison is apt in more than superficial ways. Back in the realm of alien-cockroach butt kicking as Will Smith’s sidekick, Jones’ K is the character who introduces us to a parallel reality which still exists alongside and interlinked with the world we know.
Three Burials takes us outside the gringo wealth and cultural hegemony which is a much more effective border than the Rio Grande, dusty dirt roads, and patrolling pickup trucks and rifles. The film opens with the discovery of Melquiades’ decomposing and coyote mangled body. In a somewhat confusing first half hour, we are shown instances of life amongst the dusty border town’s inhabitants in a non-linear time sequence. The scene in which Melquiades is shot does not play out until the end of this time sequence, and then it is shown from two perspectives: those of the victim and the killer. After two superficial burials, the film’s focus then switches to the parallel journeys across land and through spiritual territory as rocky as the landscape, as Jones forces Pepper to help him return Melquiades’ body to his Mexican hometown.
The film is intercut with black humour, including a hilarious scene where Jones borrows anti-freeze solution off a blind old gringo and uses it to preserve the decaying corpse. An extremely impressive directorial debut from Jones, that I totally recommend.
DIRECTED BY TOMMY LEE JONES