Kudos to Tommy Lee Jones (Oscar winner for The Fugitive) deciding on making his own film, a fairly trenchant neo-western that sharply connects with the mind and heart. And, he delivers one of his best performances at age sixty in The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada.
Last year's Cannes winner as Best Actor is Pete Perkins, a Texas ranch foreman, out to return the body of his deceased amigo (Julio Cesar Cedillo), the very affable illegal migrant title character, for burial in Mexico.
Barry Pepper has a similar moxie and far less heroic intensity than his performance in Saving Private Ryan as Mike Norton, a patrol cop on the border, coerced to look after the decaying body of the man he shot. The interplay between the steely Pete and the relocated, naive Mike gradually tones the proceedings into more of a poetic, quixotic state. Jones ultimately tempers his work in a way that is enigmatically effective, not just a scenic revenge drama that is sometimes hard to watch.
In a movie with an abundance of austerity, impassioned by the unchronolgoical, title-carded script by Guillermo Arriaga (21 Grams), there is effective support from Melissa Leo as a flinty, married waitress and January Jones as Mike's comely, restless wife. Dwight Yoakam also singes the feelings of a local as a rather cold-hearted sheriff who doesn't like sharing that waitress with Pete.
The director's spirited, sometimes unsettlingly drifting picture knocks you for a loop in a provocative way that has feeling for the likes of Sam Peckinpah and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. This road picture has some nice touches as when Pete and Mike meet up with a blind hermit and Jones (The Missing) isn't lost when it comes to the kind of conflict that often occurs in the southwest probably more than is reported. Here's hoping he keeps on going looking for more challenges behind the camera besides the arid Mexican village known by Melquiades.