Tommy Lee Jones’ directorial debut is a modern day Western set on the Tex-Mex border that revolves around the shooting of Mexican immigrant Melquiades Estrada (Cedillo).
Incensed by the lack of interest in his mate’s death – the local Sheriff (Yoakam) turns a blind eye because “illegals aren’t my problem” – Pete (Jones) take matters into his own hands by forcing Mel’s killer on a redemptive journey to Mexico to atone for his sins.
Three Burials isn’t exactly your classic gun-toting, blood-splattered Western - only five shots are fired all film – and for long periods Jones’ monosyllabic conversations look more like a Wayne Rooney interview.
However, “Amores Perros” and “21 Grams” writer Guillermo Arriaga has produced one of the best scripts of the last year. A strange combination of absurdist humour (watch out for Pete trying to stop ants from eating his dead mate’s corpse) and religious allegory (the murderer’s descent into Mexico is a metaphorical journey into hell) this ranks as one of the finest Westerns since “Unforgiven”.
Arriga’s trademark use of the jumbled timeline allows us to see the victim before his death, giving us glimpses of Pete and Mel’s blossoming frienship and explaining the former’s motivation for his unusual behaviour later on. It also injects some suspense into proceedings as the murderer’s identity is kept secret until half way through the film.
When it comes to the extras there are some amusing anecdotes from Lee Jones in the commentary, particularly the tale about him being forced by animal rights activists to use "ant dummies" for the scene where he bats the insects off Melquiades' corpse. However, the remainder of the talk-track offers little, particularly from actors Yoakam and Jones, and lapses into lengthy silences during the film’s quieter moments.
The impressive half-hour “Making Of” is more informative however, with Barry Pepper offering some useful insights into the story’s metaphorical meaning: “My character represents the fallen man searching for fulfilment”, he explains. “He’s empty and lonely, with no understanding of love or commitment, and through the painful journey of his mentorship with Pete, he has to become a man.”
The 13-minute interviews with Jones and Arriaga also offer some explanatory information, with the latter explaining that he uses the muddled timeframe to "portray the confusion of Tommy Lee Jones’ character". He also points out that while this is a story about "guilt and redemption" it has nothing to do with religion. He also says “It’s a love story between Pete and his dead employee” but is keen to point out that there’s “nothing gay” between the men. Phew, that’s alright then.
Jones makes the perfect cowboy, his weathered face mirroring the craggy Texan landscape, and the mystical Rio Grande becomes a character in itself thanks to some breathtaking cinematography from Chris Menges.
Staring: Tommy Lee Jones, Barry Pepper, Dwight Yoakam, January Jones, Julio Cesar Cedillo, Melissa Leo
Directed by: Tommy Lee Jones
Extras: Audio commentary from director/actor Tommy Lee Jones with actors Dwight Yoakam & January Jones, Extended and deleted scenes, 'Making Of' featurette, Interviews with Tommy Lee Jones and Guillermo Arriaga, 'Making Of The Music' featurette