Thursday, February 23, 2006

Guillermo Arriaga - The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada

Guillermo Arriaga is the Mexican novelist turned screenwriter who gained international attention with his script for Alejandro González Iñárritu's Amores Perros (2000). Reportedly, Jones admired that film and invited Arriaga to visit his West Texas ranch. The two men became friends, one thing led to another, and the next thing you know, Arriaga had been commissioned to write a script that's not only a tribute to an American-Mexican friendship somewhat like his and Jones', but that also stems from an incident that had stuck in Tommy Lee's craw.
Arriaga's screenplay for Amores Perros contained a great deal of compelling surface energy and grit along with a tricky, Tarantino-like use of scrambled chronology, a device that further devolved into annoying mannerism in his and Iñárritu's next film, 21 Grams (where the narrative logic seemed to be: If you have a boring story, try jumbling the time sequence so thoroughly that the audience will be so busy figuring out what's going on that it won't have the chance to realize how banal the material is). Three Burials starts out in much the same mode, opening with the discovery of Estrada's corpse, then hopscotching backward in time to sketch the prior relationships of the main characters, and forward to follow Perkins' initial reactions to the crime. Thankfully, once the rancher sets off on his morbid odyssey, the time-shifting ceases and we're treated to a fairly straightforward story.

You can find the full review here

The first half of the movie is mostly shrewd, laconic character study. The script by Guillermo Arriaga, the great Mexican writer responsible for "Amores Perros" and "21 Grams," lets the characters collide into one another: Pete, nearly weeping with unmanly frustration; Mike, bored and frightened, with "a face like a white rat," in the words of one border jumper unlucky enough to come up against him; Mike's wife, Lou Ann (January Jones), young and blond and not quite as empty as everyone assumes; Rachel, whom Leo plays as a sort of evolved floozy; Melquiades, who haunts those who meet him even while he's alive.
The second half of the movie crosses into Mexico and metaphor. Having pledged to return Melquiades's body to the tiny village from which he came, Pete pistol-whips Mike into coming along for the ride, and the byplay between the cowboy, his handcuffed captive, and the rapidly decaying corpse is grimly comic.

You can find the full review here

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