Now, I have only recently started to delve into the murky depth that is the Western. I enjoyed Tombstone (Kurt Russell was amazing as always), The Warrior’s Way had an excellent backdrop, and I want to watch all of The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. But, the movie I will be reviewing tonight is by far, a more modern and realistic take in this genre. That movie is 2005’s Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (Three Burials), a film I believe to embody both the Western’s capability, as well as heart. It is almost safe to say that this film is Tommy Lee Jones’ baby, taking up roles as the main character and director. From what I have heard he even translated the script from Guillermo Arriaga’s (writer of films like 21 Grams and Babel) original Spanish script.
Three Burials starts off with a Tarantino esk title card stating “First Burial”, that follows is a shot of two park rangers’ in the West Texas Desert, discovering the dead body of a Hispanic man, emerging from a shallow grave. The film then cuts to Tommy Lee Jones’ character, Pete Perkins, standing inside of what seems to be the autopsy wing of the local sheriffs’ office, looking upon the body of his good friend, Melquides Estrada (Julio Cedillo), who has been working as a cowboy in Texas illegally. As the sheriffs’ department considers his body something not to fuss over, especially considering that the freezer’s powerless, they plan on burying his body again, as soon as possible. This creates a problem with Pete, because as Estrada’s friend, he does not appreciate how they are handling his murder (in fact the local border patrol chief, who I will paraphrase as proclaiming “This sounds like a whole lot of paperwork for just some Mexican”).
The plot breaks off in multiple branches to introduce and follow other characters (a trait commonly found in many of Arriaga’s scripts), starting with Pete going off on detective work to find Estrada’s killer. This part of the movie is what I consider a slice of life story; since a considerable amount of the people who live in this small West Texas town are followed around day-to-day. Mike Norton (Berry Pepper), recently transferred member of Border Patrol, has moved down from Cincinnati with his wife Lou Ann (January Jones). The two have moved into a portable home, where Mike leaves for work every day, and Lou Ann either roams around the house or walks down to the local diner. This diner, run by the married couple Bob and Rachel, is the local hangout for most of the characters in the film. Sheriff Belmont (Dwight Yoakam), who I would describe as Mike’s rival, spends most of his time flirting with Rachel whom I am under the impression is the only waitress working at the diner/woman in the entire town. Rachel spends her days having equal opportunity affairs between her husband Bob, Pete, and good ol’ Sheriff Belmont. The rest of the story follows the interaction between these characters, and how they relate back to Melquiades when he was alive.