Tommy Lee Jones takes his second turn in the director's chair with THE THREE BURIALS OF MELQUIADES ESTRADA, the follow-up to his 1995 western THE GOOD OLD BOYS. The action takes place on the border between West Texas and Northern Chihuahua in Mexico, which is a hot spot for illegal crossings. But Jones's movie ingeniously flips this dangerous yet all-too-common practice on its head, with a tale of a man hell-bent on crossing the border in the opposite direction.
The journey to Mexico begins when Pete Perkins (Jones) uncovers the identity of a Border Patrolman, Mike Norton (Barry Pepper), who has shot and killed his best friend, Melquiades Estrada (Julio Cedillo). Kidnapping Norton and forcing him to dig up Estrada's body, Perkins straps the corpse to a horse, and informs Norton that he will be traveling with them to Mexico. Once there, they will bury Estrada according to instructions he gave Perkins prior to his death. Jones paints Norton as a mean-spirited individual; caught up in a loveless relationship with his wife, Lou Ann (January Jones), Norton’s day job frequently involves him him either exploding in a violent rage or idly masturbating over a well-thumbed copy of Hustler. The two men don't exactly bond on their journey, the wedge that's been forced between them being far too great for them to reconcile their differences. But Jones coerces a riveting tale from Guillermo Arriaga script, with a choppy chronology reminiscent of Arriaga's own 21 GRAMS. Comparisons to Sam Peckinpah's masterfully bleak 1974 movie BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA are inevitable, although Jones's film has a tender edge that Peckinpah's nihilistic epic was never quite capable of reaching. A film that suggests Jones has a bright future ahead of him as a director, THE THREE BURIALS OF MELQUIADES ESTRADA is one of the most absorbing pieces of cinema to emerge in 2005.
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