Thursday, September 15, 2005

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (Tommy Lee Jones)

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (Tommy Lee Jones) 47 - I have no idea what Roger Ebert, who says this is his favorite film from the last several years, sees in this relatively slight moral tale. Midway through, a companion of mine compared the onscreen action to an episode of HBO’s “Six Feet Under” and even though the association’s not perfect (it similarly combines gallows humor with moral transgressions before dawdling into themes of forgiveness), it’s too close for comfort, especially since the average episode of the TV show offers more to chew on! Equally puzzling is the Cannes Jury’s decision to give the Best Actor award to star Tommy Lee Jones, who doesn’t do anything remotely interesting here, and certainly doesn’t perform an Eastwood-style investigation into his screen persona.

The same dopey selectively omniscient perspective is in effect here as in screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga’s 21 Grams with pretty much the same pitfall. In an attempt to alert the audience to both the frustrations of an unsolved mystery and the guilt of knowing the unspeakable truth, the same key scene is repeated several times, utterly diluting its impact. Not much else fills the void, I’m afraid, leaving the viewer with a story that constantly strains for significance but ends up shooting itself in the foot with its bland, self-consciously rounded characterizations (Americans are confused while Mexicans have a firm sense of self and justice) and hopelessly contrived plot. One aspect of the script that did work for me was the ever-present body of Melquiades, which serves as a constant reminder that the arduous journey taken in the film’s second half has little to do with corporeal concerns. The end result is watchable enough, even if it’s not in any way profound.


kayrojones said...


Jim Emerson -- Ebert's webpage guy -- is the one ejaculating about "Three Burials of Melquides," not Uncle Rog, who, if memory serves, admired the film at Canness but did not declare it "one of the great films of the 21st century," as Emerson did.

Just a little nit-picky point.

Your coverage has been the absolute best of the D'Angelo circle. Excellent, excellent stuff. (Now, if only you could channel this prolific-ness back into the moviemartyr page!)

Paul said...

Though the Mexican characters are painted with a loving brush, I welcome the film's conspicuous huminzation of those characters because our country consistently lampoons Mexicans---e.g., in one of the wealthiest high schools here in Texas, white students dressed up as Mexicans in celebration of a mock "Gardeners and Maids" holiday. Such views of Mexicans make tough stands on immigration more digestable, much like cowboy-and-indian flicks made us feel OK about, more or less, exterminating Native Americans.

The film also gives us more to chew on than you credit it for: the old-blind-man scene tackles in 10 minutes what Million Dollar Baby took 2 hours for, and it does so without MDB's medical dishonesty.

I love your moviemartyr site, by the way.