Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2005)

Both graceful and immediate, this western concerns the repercussions of the murder of a Mexican ranchhand in Texas. Tommy Lee Jones, who also directed, stars as the rancher to whom Melquiades was both an employee and a dear, personal friend. He goes on a quest to discover the identity of the murderer in order to extract what he sees as the appropriate punishment. There is little mystery; I won't reveal it here, but the killer is revealed by the end of the first act, and the rest of the film involves him and Jones reconciling their notions of what happened and how important Estrada's humanity remains in his death. The film takes place in dirty, secluded Texas/Mexico, and it's a slow film, but punctuated by moments of heightened violence and emotion; this is more Sayles than Peckinpah. The acting is impeccable across the board; aside from a characteristically nuanced and mature performance from Jones, Barry Pepper, January Jones, Melissa Leo, and Dwight Yoakam turn in subdued, realistic portrayals that make the progression of the piece far more interesting than any outcome. Jones paints a flat, half-dead landscape out of Texas, and contrasts that with a lively, earthy presence in the Mexico scenes; it is not hard to infer Jones' opinion of that nation and its people, particularly in relation to their treatment by the U.S. This is not a film that can be universally appreciated by modern audiences, but rather one that takes its time, refuses to shower one in spectacle, and delivers a strong, human story that says plenty both about human nature and the current state of racial politics down south.

Highly Recommended for fans of slower-paced westerns, Tommy Lee Jones, or Barry Pepper. This and True Grit are great evidence for Barry Pepper's continually impressive talent, and that he deserves more prominent big-screen work.

No comments:

Post a Comment