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.