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The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada tells the story of just that, the three stories of the three burials of Mexican illegal immigrant Melquiades Estrada (Julio Cedillo) who is accidentally shot and killed by border patrolmen Mike Norton (Barry Pepper). Split into four segments, the story begins in a disjointed fashion giving us an insight into the lives and interactions between some of the inhabitants of a small West Texas town. The movie then focuses in on Tommy Lee Jones’ character Pete Perkins, who, after discovering the identity of his dead friend Melquiades' killer, undertakes his dead friend's final wish to be buried in his home town, but not before abducting his killer and taking him along for the ride.

 Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, The
At its heart, Three Burials could be seen as a revenge movie. It’s got all the hallmarks: a disgruntled mourner tracking down the killer, forcefully putting said killer in a nightmare situation that echoes a sense of justice and ultimately forcing the killer to see the error of their ways. Thankfully, Three Burials manages to keep this fresh, dealing with all of these genre stepping-stones with a steady hand and a genuine feeling of emotional resonance.

With a cast of solid actors—actors who always impress without ever really springing to mind as ones I go out of my way to keep up with—the Three Burials characters feel lived in and totally real, despite the extreme routes the story takes. Tommy Lee Jones and Barry Pepper deliver especially memorable performances in their interactions and even though the supporting cast drift more and more into the background as the story progresses, I have to say that Dwight Yoakam is slowly becoming a really likable character actor and January Jones really brought a lot to what could have been a totally forgettable character in the grand scheme of things.

 Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, The
The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada was much more than just a pleasant surprise. Tommy Lee’s first, and to date only, directorial effort is more than enough to make me want to see what he might do next. He uses the landscapes of the journey to Mexico to wonderful effect, he keeps a keen sense of the slow unravelling of the story and even more so, there were a few moments that I genuinely felt like showed a lot of bravery and originality as a filmmaker. Tommy Lee plays many of the scenes with a great sense of humour, without it ever being funny and as for standout moments (outside of the fantastic performances), the horse falling off of the cliff was as shocking as it was well shot, the old blind guy asking so politely for a bullet was a nice touch and the scene where you realise that the person sitting next to Mike Norton by the campfire is actually the body of Melquiades Estrada and how that initial shock goes to weird and wonderful places as the scene plays out, is quite genius.

Video


Despite having many locations that should glow with HD greatness, it has to be said that much of Three Burials looks a little underwhelming. Shots can look grainy and quite patchy, especially in the darker interior scenes. Outdoor scenes fare a little better, more so when bathed in bright sunlight but really only a handful of them look as good as I felt they could, especially with other movies in similar locations setting the bar much higher of late.

 Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, The
All that said, there were moments of detail that impressed. There’s a great moment where a character runs from a vast sand filled dessert into a pretty startling looking field of yellow flowers. Some of the vastness of the landscape can look amazing, especially the rockier ones and even though I wouldn’t say that the transfer was really one that tingled my HD-o-rometer, there was something about just how naturally lit a lot of this was that I really liked and gave it that extra filmic quality.

Audio


The first half of Three Burials is pretty dialogue heavy, all sounding good in this DTS-HD Master Audio track even if it doesn’t put it to the test. As the story moves on, large portions of the movie are purposely quite low key. Long periods of either silence of incidental music paint a picture of large open spaces and add weight to the long journey we’re on.

 Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, The
The only element of the mix that really stands out is the music. Sometimes the score ups the ante with a few of its ‘chasier’ moments and even more so, all of the songs on the soundtrack sound great, filling the speakers effectively with a nice level of bass.

Extras


Don’t be fooled by the initially impressive cast listing on the commentary. Having Tommy Lee Jones, Dwight Yoakam and January Jones sounds to me like it would give us a nice mix of opinions. After all how rare is it to get this many of the lead actors? Unfortunately, outside of a few moments, this is a laid back affair to the point where it stops being a commentary and becomes a series of passing comments on the moments between silences. That’s not to say it’s a bad commentary, it’s just not one that’s all that engaging.

 Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, The
The making of (26:14 SD) is a quirky little thing, more in tune with that of a low budget European flick or Korean Horror in its style than the more generic Hollywood fare. Tommy Lee comes off as a pretty cool cat and there’s a healthy dose of raw on set footage and interviews to boot.

Tommy Lee’s coolness continues in ‘Making of the Music’ (07:05 SD) which covers Tommy’s musical choices for the movies and throws out unexpected director comments along the lines of ‘A girl who’s having an affair with an illegal alien because her husband is such a dick’. Seriously, I had no idea Tommy Lee could be this much fun.

On top of this there’s a ‘Deleted and Extended Scenes’ reel (27:17 SD) and a weird Q&A with Tommy Lee Jones and Guillermo Arriage at a French FNAC store, that has some good answers from the pair even if the French questions are not subtitled (it comes in handy having a French wife at times like these).

 Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, The

Overall


I enjoyed The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada more than I expected to. It’s packed with great performances in a fantastically well told story with a rewarding pay off.

It’s not the best looking HD transfer, despite being set in a number of locations that have excelled on Blu-ray in the past but at the same time it’s solid enough for the style of the movie and gives it that slightly more seventies flick feel as opposed to a modern movie, which was probably the intention anyway. Either way, Three Burials is highly recommended.

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page.


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