Movie Review: Three Burials...

What does Tommy Lee Jones' directorial debut "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada" have to do with my new film "KIlling Down"? Well, they were both primarily shot in Texas, they both were made by Texas filmmakers, and they both feature a great performance by Texas-based actor Julio Cedillo.

Last night was the Texas premiere of the movie at the Angelika Theater in Dallas and Julio was in attendance (and I was there as one of his invited guest - thank you very much Julio!).

Let me first say that I had no idea what to expect from this film. I have been following it for a while though. When I first cast Julio in "Killing Down" he was wrapping "Three Burials" (this was in the fall of 2004). So I was introduced to the film then, but really didn't have many details on the project. The only real tidbits Julio shared were his experiences living on Tommy Lee Jones' ranch for four months of his life (in Van Horn, Texas near El Paso) - and his time spent with Tommy and the cast and crew. So I knew little of the story except for what I had read on the Internet (which wasn't much).

In May 2005 the film played at the Cannes Film Festival in France and ended up winning two awards - one for Tommy Lee Jones as best actor and the other for best screenplay by Guillermo Arriaga.

So, I got the scoop on the screening there (very cool stuff) - Julio attended the festival with Tommy Lee Jones and gang - but I still didn't really know much about the movie itself. I had heard it was a story about friendship and redemption, but you could say this about a lot of movies.

After Cannes, a trailer was finally posted online and I checked it out. The original trailer almost played like "Three Burials" was an action movie... I asked Julio about it and he said the trailer didn't really represent what the movie was about. But, the trailer was good nonetheless. Just before the Christmas holidays I saw a different version of the trailer that showed more of the real depth of the film and more of the real story. So now, all these months later, I was finally getting an idea of what the film was about.

Boy, was I wrong.

The movie starts out with the discovery of Melquiades' body being eaten by coyotes. So you know right off the bat that he was killed, but by who?

The story then unfolds in a non-linear fashion. We're introduced to Pete Perkins (Tommy Lee Jones) and to sheriff Belmont (Dwight Yoakam) as they find out about the killing. Pete is Melquiades good friend and employer (we learn this through a series of flashbacks peppered throughout the first half of the film) and wants to know who killed him. Belmont doesn't really seem to care who killed him and ventures to call Melquiades just another dead "wetback". I couldn't decide if the sheriff was just an asshole, or if was just stupid. Probably a little of both.

Mixed into the discovery of the body and Pete trying to find the killer, we're introduced to Mike Norton (Barry Pepper) and his wife Lu Ann (January Jones). They've just moved into town from Cincinnati. Mike has a new job with the Border Patrol.

The couple buys a new mobile home (in a great scene with a very funny salesman) and tries to settle into their new life. It's obvious they are not happy. Not just with their new surroundings, but with their life in general (i.e. marriage). But they are here for Mike's new job. A job that I'm not sure he likes either. Most of the time he sits alone in his Border Patrol truck looking at dirty magazines. When he does get a call to confront some illegal border crossers he completely over reacts and beats the hell out of a couple Mexicans. It appears he's taking his aggressions out on them.

The two stories collide when we learn that Mike was the person who killed Melquiades (this is NOT a spoiler by the way - it's actually known in the trailer). From here the story gets quite interesting.

Pete wants the sheriff to arrest Mike. He won't do it and tells Pete to just let it go. So Pete decides to take matters into his own hands. He kidnaps Mike at gunpoint and takes him on an insane journey (on horseback) to bury Melquiades in his home town in Jimenez, Mexico.

I don't want to give away any more of the story here, but suffice it to say the journey is a wild one.

The thing that surprised me the most about this movie was how funny it was. I mean laugh-out-loud funny moments. The dialog and the situations. I did not expect that at all coming from a movie like this. And it was my favorite kind of humor - dark. A black comedy treat!

Tommy Lee Jones is a funny guy. His rough exterior even makes him more funny. He showed this off very well in "Men In Black" and continues it here (only a lot darker in this film). But it wasn't just Tommy Lee Jones' character Pete - all the characters had their moments. Like when sheriff Belmont was just about to shoot Pete (as he was riding away on horseback through a canyon with his kidnap victim Mike). He aims his rifle, feels the trigger... Then can't shoot him. He's laid out on his back on top of some cliff surrounded by desert landscape - and his cellphone rings - pulling him and everyone out of the tense moment. I enjoy tense situations with sly humor (a lot like Tarantino movies). Good stuff!

And speaking of good... Julio does a great job in the film. Virtually all his scenes are in the flashbacks of the story. And almost all his lines are in Spanish (some people who have seen the movie don't realize he's actually American and speaks perfect English in real life!). For the rest of the movie his corpses is being carried on a horse or set on fire or dumped in a makeshift grave. Think "Weekend at Bernie's" in a desert (although not slapstick comedy of course). But when he's "alive" Julio is very, very convincing as Pete's good friend. They have a lot of chemistry and you believe they share a tight bond.

So, In the end, this movie is about friendship and redemption. It's about the bond that two friends can share for each other. The love if you will. I've read some reviews of this film saying there were "homosexual" undertones to Pete's fondness of Melquiades. This is ridiculous. Obviously these critics are confusing this film with another cowboy movie out there that is about gay love - but this one is NOT (or they're trying to justify the other movie by saying - "Hey, look, this film has gay cowboys too!" - of course not true at all).

"The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada" is about brotherhood. It's about forgiveness. And it's about redeeming yourself as you figure out what's good in life. And, it's damn funny!

Check out this film. It definitely made my life better.


3 comments to "Movie Review: Three Burials..."

  • You did a great job reviewing... I can't wait to see the film!!! Thanks for sharing,
    Bravo! Julio!

  • Thanks Sheree. I think you'll enjoy the film. It is dark though (in a good way), so be prepared.

  • Blake, you did a very good write up for the this movie. Can't wait to see it. Also am very eager for your movie and Sheree's "Killing Down" to be released! Your web site is very artistic and informative and makes the viewer want to see your movie asap :) !

Who Am I?

I'm a filmmaker who's produced & directed five feature films including the comedy SPILT MILK (available on iTunes), the new horror/thriller PHOBIA (on iTunes) and the action/thiller KILLING DOWN (which you can buy or rent at pretty much all the usual places).

I also created the Streamy and Webby award-winning web series PINK, which to date has been viewed online around 10 MILLION times at places like YouTube, Hulu, Koldcast and And speaking of, I also produced and directed an online thriller for them called EXPOSED. It was released summer 2010. And most recently I created a new online sci-fi series called CONTINUUM, which is part of the online indie TV network - Just The Story and NOW available via VOD through indie platform Distrify.

Oh, and I don't shoot weddings. Thanks for asking though.

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