One of the Best Films of 2005
In the past Tommy Lee Jones has appeared in quite a few movies unworthy of his considerable talents, so I was mildly surprised to learn that he had directed and played the central character in a film being shown in competition at Cannes. My curiosity was further piqued when I discovered that movie's screenwriter was Guillermo Arriaga, whose Amores perros and 21 Grams were films I considered to be outstanding. The movie that Jones and Arriaga teamed up for was The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, and now that I've seen it, I can definitely understand why the two men won Best Actor and Best Screenplay, respectively, at Cannes. I found this film to be richly textured, dramatically compelling and satisfying.
A Modern-Day Tex-Mex Tale
Pete Perkins (Jones) is a Texas ranch foreman who hires illegal immigrant Melquiades Estrada (Julio Cedillo), and the two become good friends. Then there's an incident where Mike Norton (Barry Pepper), a rookie border patrolman, shoots and kills Estrada. After the immigrant is buried twice in Texas, Perkins forces Norton to accompany him on a horseback journey to get Estrada to a proper final resting place in Mexico. I was very impressed with Tommy Lee Jones' performance as a man who goes to great lengths to honor the memory of a fallen friend.
Stunning Locations and Good Soundtrack Music
I enjoyed the magnificent wilderness scenery in Three Burials. The movie shows a variety of West Texas locationsunfamiliar to methat feature prairies, mountains, desert and canyons. Some of the footage is shot in Big Bend National Park.
The soundtrack music is well-chosen to enhance the mood of the film. Songs heard include Merle Haggard's "Workin' Man Blues," Dwight Yoakam's "Fair to Midland," "The Cheatin' Hotel" by Hank Williams Jr. and Bobby Flores' "I Wonder Who'll Turn Out the Lights (In Your World Tonight)." Also, the original music composed by Marco Beltrami is good.
The Charm of the Unexpected
My favorite thing about Three Burials is that the movie has so many scenes containing some kind of pleasant surprise. Here are three examples:
After going to a motel with two women, Perkins and Estrada end up with their dates in a dusty place where tons of rusting equipment is stored. To the strains of Freddy Fender's "Before the Next Teardrop Falls," both couples start to dance.
While Perkins gets skunk drunk at an isolated, rustic Mexican cantina, a young girl plays an old, out-of-tune piano. The song: "Opus 10 No. 3 in E Major" by Frédéric Chopin.
Tired and hungry, Perkins and Norton are riding through desolate country in Mexico when they come upon a small group of men sitting near a pickup. The men turn out to be watching a soap opera on a battery-powered TV, and they give the two Americans some bear meat.
Disappointing Audio Commentary
The only bonus material on the DVD is a feature-length audio commentary by lead actor-director-producer Tommy Lee Jones, and he is accompanied by singer-actor Dwight Yoakam (who portrays the county sheriff) and actress January Jones (who plays the wife of the border patrolman who kills Melquiades Estrada). Tommy Lee Jones occasionally says something interesting, as when he talks about working at Luc Besson's facility in Normandy or about the birdcall library at Cornell. But overall I was very disappointed in the commentary track: it's mostly disjointed chitchat that yields little information.
Choice of Two Aspect Ratios, but DVD Not a Flipper
On the Three Burials DVD, you can watch the feature film in either widescreen (2.35:1) or full-screen (1.33:1) format. Both versions of the movie are on the same side of the disc, and you choose which one you want to watch from a menu. If the screen you're using measures less than about 27 inches across the diagonal, I think you'll probably be happier watching the full-screen format, but this is a matter of personal taste.
Below I have given the details for the DVD containing The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada.
Release Date: June 6, 2006
Feature Film Run Time: 2 Hours 1 Minute
Widescreen (2.35:1) and Full-Screen (1.33:1), Color
MPAA Rating: R for Language, Violence and Sexuality
English 5.1 Dolby Digital
Audio Commentary by Director and Actors