"The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada" seems like just the kind of weird Western Tommy Lee Jones would choose to direct - dark, ghoulishly comic, very intelligent, relentless in driving its point home and perhaps most important, starring Tommy Lee Jones.
Jones was named best actor at the Cannes Film Festival for his portrayal of Pete Perkins, a west Texas ranch foreman who becomes best friends and a kind of father figure to Melquiades "Mel" Estrada, a young illegal immigrant from Mexico. Then Mel is killed by a border patrolman (Barry Pepper). The killing is an accident, but would not have happened if the border guard were not so headstrong and prone to violence, particularly against Mexicans.
When it appears that the local sheriff (Dwight Yoakam, who invests the role with complex humanity) is going to let the killing slide, Pete takes matters into his own hands. He kidnaps the border patrolman at gunpoint and forces him to dig up Mel's body. With the body slung over a pack horse and decaying by the day, the men head south over the arid mountains and across the Rio Grande, taking Mel home to Mexico to be buried.
It's a long way, and the border guard keeps trying to escape and Pete keeps banging him around and both the border guard and the body get to be in pretty sorry shape. When the corpse becomes infested with ants and the border guard is bitten by a rattlesnake you may find yourself wondering just how much grim comedy you will have to endure. On the other hand, there's something perversely fascinating about this whole epic voyage through hell, in part because the script by Mexican writer Guillermo Arriaga ("Amores Perros") is unpredictable and brilliantly constructed, slipping easily through time and space.
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