Release date:December 14, 2005
(NY & LA Academy run; limited release: February 3, 2006)
Studio:Sony Pictures Classics
Director:Tommy Lee Jones
MPAA Rating:R (for language, violence and sexuality)
Starring:Tommy Lee Jones, Barry Pepper, Julio Cedillo, Dwight Yoakam, January Jones, Melissa Leo, Vanessa Bauche, Levon Helm
In the early winter of 2001, Tommy Lee Jones asked Guillermo Arriaga to write a screenplay about the border country between West Texas and Northern Chihuahua, Mexico. Jones was born and raised in West Texas and for many years had owned a large working cattle ranch in the Davis Mountains. "This is my home country," he explained, "These are my home people, that's why I'm interested in making a movie about this place." They agreed that Arriaga would write the principal acting part for Jones, who would direct the picture as well. As a Mexican writer, and a lover of this border country, Arriaga also had a vested interest in telling a story that would explore the unique culture of the area-an area that both shares and divides American and Mexican people, customs, and traditions. Jones did not specify narrative or characters for Arriaga to follow, but rather discussed with him some anecdotes of historical injustices along the border, and spoke in broad terms about what he hoped to illuminate and achieve with the film. As he said later, "I wanted essentially to make a study in social contrast between the land that's south of the Rio Grande River and the land that's north of it. I wanted to understand how things are the same, and how they're different, how they're in and out of human control, what ironies might exist there, what injustices, what glory, beauty, and redemption you can find in this area that has its own character, its own quality, something that cannot be imposed, something that has grown, and evolved, something that cannot be controlled." The U.S.-Mexico border has long been plagued with violence and racism, and many of the events that unfold in The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada are accurate depictions of the ongoing abuse of human rights in the region. But the film offers, in its conclusion, a pure form of contrition for wrongs committed, and a striking note of empathy for the lives so changed. A man is shot and quickly buried in the high desert of west Texas. The body is found and reburied in Van Horn's town cemetery. Pete Perkins, a local ranch foreman (Tommy Lee Jones) kidnaps a Border Patrolman and forces him to disinter the body. With his captive in tow and the body tied to a mule Pete undertakes a dangerous and quixotic journey into Mexico. Guillermo Arriaga's dramatic and poetic script weaves past and present as it gradually reveals a great friendship, the lonely subterfuge of an illegal migrant's life, the cost of a promise made and kept, and culminates in the redemption of a callous if accidental killer.