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Movie Review: The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada

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Howdy folks, I’m Tommy Lee Jones. You probably know me as an actor. (Remember me in The Fugitive? I was good in that. Won me an Oscar, it did.) Today, though, I speak to you not only as an actor but as a director and a human being. I’d like to talk to you for a moment about immigration.

Now, I feel very strongly about the immigration issue. Immigrants have a very tough time making it in America, even more so if they are illegal Mexicans. There’s a lot of hatred directed towards Mexican immigrants these days, and I don’t think that’s right. Mexican immigrants do a lot of things for us, and they do a lot of crummy jobs to help this economy run. That’s why I’ve made a movie about it. It’s called The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada.

In this movie, I play a ranchhand who befriends the title character, a Mexican cowboy who’s come to America looking for work. One day, he’s shot and killed by a racist border patrol cop, so in the best traditions of the Western I have to take my revenge. This, of course, involves a great many scenes where I beat the snot out of the border patrolman. I feel that including all these scenes gets my point across very forcefully.

What’s more, I’ve been blessed in that my conviction to the immigrant issue attracted the attention of screenwriter Guillermo Arriga. He’s the guy who wrote that movie 21 Grams, and he’s Mexican, so how lucky am I that he wrote me a screenplay about the plight of the Mexican immigrant? I mean, truth be told, it’s not Arriga’s best work. When I was reading it, I thought that it was kinda heavy-handed and obvious, and Arriga’s use of irony was, I dunno, a bit laughable. Also, it wasn’t really clear to me why the script was non-chronological, other than Arriga likes writing that way. But darn it, it was about an immigrant, and I felt that I could get my message to the world with this film.

I’ve also been lucky with casting in my journey to make this film. When word got out that I was making a film about the immigrant issue, a lot of talented people offered to help me out. I couldn’t cast ’em all, but I got a few of ’em in there. Dwight Yoakam was a no-brainer, being that this film would be a Western and all. Melissa Leo was great too, since she was willing to do the nude scenes. What I was real happy with, though, was getting Barry Pepper to play the border patrolman. He’s a talented young actor with a bright future, and there’s nobody in Hollywood I’d rather spend half a film beating up.

In directing this, I tried to do my best in making sure my point got through. It was a bit of a learning experience, since I’d never done this before, but I think I did my job. I made very sure that the audience would come to see Melquiades as a saint and the border cop as an evil, vicious shit. Barry kept pushing for scenes that would make the cop a bit more sympathetic, and I think he may have snuck a couple things under my nose. But he’s the actor, and the role is his. So I let him play it how he wanted it, even though it kinda didn’t jibe with the script’s portrayal of him as an unrepentent evil bastard. (At least, that is until I beat some repentence outta him.)

I pretty much let the other actors do what they wanted, too. Some might say my approach was lackadaisical, but as an actor I figured they would appreciate the freedom. Should I have used a stronger hand? Maybe, some say. Especially with that January Jones chick, who’s pretty much useless… but I’m getting distracted from the point. The point is, even though my film may not be very good, even though some snarky critics might consider it an embarassment even though I won a whole bunch of crap at Cannes for it, it gets out my message about the treatment of immigrants. Especially the Mexican ones.

So, speaking on behalf of immigrants everywhere, I’m Tommy Lee Jones. Remember: Be nice to immigrants or I’ll come to your house and beat the goddamn hell outta you and drag you through the desert. Thanks for your time.

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About Steve Carlson

  • Pacze Moj

    vicious, Vicious, and very funny!

    I think I thought I little more highly of the film than you do (though one thing that bugged me, and that you — err, Mr. Jones — didn’t bring up, is the use of titles: “the first burial”, “the second burial”…), but your criticisms are spot on.

    Barry Pepper’s border patrolman could have been a great character, if Arriga hadn’t written him as a racist jerk who half-rapes his wife, punches Mexican women in the face, and probably strangles baby coyotes for fun, right after jerking off to a copy of Hustler… on the job.

    My favourite scenes were the few with Melquiades’ corpse: grotesquery incongruous with everything else in the film!

    There may be a future for you yet, Mr. Jones!

  • Steve C.

    I was actually grateful for the over-literary titles. When I saw “The Third Burial…”, I knew the film was almost over and I’d be free to leave.

    I think the point when I knew I hated the film was when January Jones hooked up with Melquiades. It was then that I knew I was not watching a serious film.

  • Marshall

    Wow, you guys are way off! The movie plays like a classic greek tale of redemtion. I found it pretty darn entertaining. Now don’t get me wrong, there were more than a few obvious signs that this was Jones’ directorial debut but all and all I found it a refreshing change from the usual stuff in theaters.

  • Steve C.

    I dunno, man. I understand that it’s about redemption and all that (Jones couldn’t be more obvious about that, especially in the last scene)… but when a pivotal scene in the evolution of Pepper’s character hinges on him recognizing a bad soap opera that he was too busy near-raping his wife to notice the first time it showed up… forgive me if I’m not sold. (And that’s not even counting the inanity of said soap opera, both as a plot device and as an easy way for Arriga to crack us upside the head with his Irony Slugger.)

  • Barbara

    I thought this an absolute first rate movie–the land as much a character as the people in it. And well, those racist bigots who think so dern much of themselves and so little of others DO exist, in just that way. It isn’t that they are just ignorant, they actually believe no one matters except for themselves…check battered women’s shelters if you think that border patrol character isn’t a dime a dozen. TL Jones makes one heck of a movie and tells one fine tale. Watched the movie because he is one of my favorite actors, bought the DVD because it is now one of my favorite films.