Once it crosses the Rio Grande, the movie shifts into more overtly allegorical territory without losing its bearings. When Pete and Mike encounter an old blind man living in the middle of nowhere, the scene recalls a host of filmic precedents, including "Frankenstein" and Hitchcock's "Saboteur." Under a baking sun, in a stunning variety of scenery captured, splendidly, by cinematographer Chris Menges, the rancher/border cop odd couple trade murderous glances, not so different from Bogart, Huston and Holt in "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre."
More sparingly than he did in the compelling "Amores Perros" or the pointlessly fractured "21 Grams," screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga juggles flashbacks with present-tense action, particularly in this film's early stretches. Some of it may be confusing in terms of chronology. Other notions strain credulity. At one point Estrada and Norton's restless, unloved wife, Lou Ann, meet for a motel room assignation, while Pete and waitress Rachel enjoy each other a few rooms away; later, Norton comes face-to-face with another undocumented Mexican woman he brutalized during a sweep. Yet the acting is so good throughout, and Texas native Jones does such a sharp, unforced job of directing a story dear to his geographical and spiritual heart, "The Three Burials" is the rare film that gets better and better as it goes.
In essence it's a story about two guys hauling a rapidly decaying dead man across a line on the map--"Bring Me the Corpse of Melquiades Estrada." But as Arriaga and Jones prove, a lot happens on either side of any divide.
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