Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada ***1/2

Slow moving but rewarding, this film is a simple story of sin and redemption, crime and punishment.  A western set against the sprawling American landscape, The Three Burials is the story of a reckless young border patrolman and the consequences that arise when he accidentally kills a Meskin. The Meskin works in a ranch owned by Tommy Lee Jones, and, as has been proven numerous times, one does not fuck with Tommy Lee Jones and escape unscathed. The upright,tough Tommy is a man who lives by a strict moral code and when he finds out that this bloke did his Mexican friend in, he decides to give him a dose of frontier justice.

After making border patrolman dig up Mel, Tommy Lee gets himself three horses and embarks on an arduous journey to take the dead displaced Mexican back to the native village he fondly remembers and once described to him. The young patrolman, played to perfection by Barry Pepper is not too keen on the idea and has to be dragged kicking and screaming, at gun point. Tommy Lee directs himself with extraordinary grace, letting the slow, lethargic, mostly silent story tell itself at its own pace. It is hard to direct a slow movie that captivates you and The Three Burials does that to perfection. There are so many small things going on in the movie that captures the essence of the small Western town and the harsh Mexican landscape. The storytelling, non-linear in parts, manages to hold our attention throughout. A haunting score and a masterful script clinch the deal. The restrained and controlled direction is especially laudable, given that it is Tommy's directorial debut. Two gringos, one meskin with an unpronouncable name, sparse dialog, tight scripting, repetitive burials. 'nuff dead.

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