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One of the most acclaimed films of 2005, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada marks the assured and worldly-wise directorial debut of veteran actor Tommy Lee Jones. While the majority of critics and Oscar®-voters heaped praise upon the "gay cowboy" breakthrough of Brokeback Mountain, Jones delivered this equally resonant, elegiac study of male friendship in a Western setting, crafting a flawless parable of borderline existence on the border of Texas and Mexico. It is there, amidst some of the most beautifully bleak landscapes in recent American film, that Jones and screenwriter Guillermo Arriga (Amores Perros, 21 Grams) set their existential quest for meaning, focusing on the honor-bound commitment of Texas ranch foreman Pete (played by Jones with a heavy heart and deep moral conviction) to return the body of illegal Mexican immigrant ranch-hand Melquiades Estrada (played in flashback scenes by Julio Cedillo) to his preferred resting place in the Mexican wilderness. Estrada had been accidentally shot by Mike (Barry Pepper), a newly-arrived U.S. border patrolman, and Pete forces Mike to participate in his cross-country ritual of duty--a voyage of revenge and redemption that will change both men forever, and bring some semblance of meaning to the senseless death of Pete's good friend. In triumphant collaboration with cinematographer Chris Menges, Jones carefully instills his superior cast (including Dwight Yoakam, January Jones, and Melissa Leo) with the slow, desperate rhythms of lives on the border (of Texas and Mexico, and life and death), prompting many critics to draw praiseworthy comparisons to Sam Peckinpah's thematically similar 1974 drama Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia and the exquisite absurdities of Luis Bunuel. Whatever your own reaction might be, Three Burials is not a film to view or respond to lightly; there's humor and more than a bit of madness to this great, inquisitive film, but Jones is looking deeply into the soul of humankind, and he dares you to draw your own conclusions about the journey Pete and Mike have taken. --Jeff Shannon
Oscar® winner Tommy Lee Jones (Best Supporting Actor, The Fugitive, 1993) directs and stars in this poetic and striking modern-day Western. Peter Perkins (Jones) is a veteran cowboy who embodies the values of the old west, living in a small Texas town bordering the U.S. and Mexico. He hires Melquiades Estrada as a ranch hand and quickly befriends the man. But when Estrada is gunned down under mysterious circumstances, Perkins takes justice into his own hands and kidnaps a trigger-happy border patrolman (Barry Pepper - Saving Private Ryan), forcing Perkins to unearth Estrada's body and accompany Perkins on horseback on the long and treacherous journey through the frontier mountains and back roads of Mexico to bring his friend's body home.