Tommy Lee Jones turns director for The Three Burials Of Melquiades Estrada, a thoughtful modern Western exploring death, delusion and friendship. He's Pete Perkins, a rancher stricken by grief when his Mexican employee and friend Mel (Julio Cedillo) is killed. Enraged by official indifference at the death of this illegal immigrant, he sets out to fulfil a promise by taking the corpse home to Mexico - with an unwilling prisoner, Border Patrolman Mike Norton (Barry Pepper), in tow.
Screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga (Amores Perros, 21 Grams) has a fondness for showing events out of order and from different perspectives. But Jones' directorial style is as clean and unpretentious as his acting and he keeps the structural jiggery-pokery to a minimum. This is to the good, showing faith in the story and Jones' own stern, unflinching portrayal of a man unmoored by sorrow and loneliness.
"TERRIFIC SENSE OF SMALL LIVES"
The film is filled with affection for the land - it was shot partly on Jones' own West Texas ranch - and a clear-eyed view of the relationship between America and Mexico; the affluent bully exploiting its poor neighbour (although even on an allegorical level it retains a pleasing ambiguity). There is also a terrific sense for small lives filled with frustration and the inherent First World racism that says life only really matters if it is White. The notoriously gruff Jones would no doubt dismiss such talk as guff and maybe he would be right. Whatever: this gripping film about real people is well-worth excavating.