Directed by Tommy Lee Jones, starring Tommy Lee Jones, Barry Pepper, January Jones, Melissa Leo, Dwight Yoakam and Julio Cesar Cedillo.
As an actor who has worked with scores of directors and who, as he recently told British magazine Uncut, "paid attention all day long, every day", Tommy Lee Jones was always a good candidate to step behind the lens. So, having wasted his acting talent on recent dross like 'Man of the House' and 'Men in Black II', it's a pleasure to announce that 'The Three Burials...' is a great directorial debut, a beautifully shot story that uses the western genre as a map for charting US-Mexican relations.
When his friend and co-worker Melquiades Estrada (Cedillo) is found shot dead in a shallow grave, Texas ranch worker Pete Perkins (Jones) wants answers to the questions that the police don't seem too bothered about asking. Like why would anyone want to kill a gentle, shy Mexican who kept his head below the radar for fear of US immigration authorities catching up with him? And the longer Pete persists the more he's convinced that there's a cover-up involving the local sheriff (Yoakam) and the border patrol. If Pete can't get justice he'll take revenge - and he's just as determined to bring Melquiades body back to the town in Mexico that he held so dear.
With a script by '21 Grams' and 'Amores Perros' writer Guillermo Arriaga, 'The Three Burials...' plays a little with sequencing and perspective at the start but otherwise it's conventional enough that even the most traditional fans of the old horse operas will find much to appreciate. It's a film that's alternately touching, insightful or blackly humorous, with Jones' direction and emphasis on character recalling that of another filmmaker who captured people out of synch with the times, Sam Peckinpah.
Like the man he plays, Jones is in no rush to get anywhere and the film's pacing lets you soak up life along the US-Mexican border, revealing the boredom, fear and desperation floating around in the atmosphere. With the current re-energised debate on illegal immigration in the US it couldn't have been released at a more interesting time - and after seeing it your hope would be that as many see it as possible.
Jones' sureness of touch as a director is mirrored in his performance as the taciturn Pete and he gets fine support from Barry Pepper as the sadistic border guard who joins Pete on a journey of discovery and redemption. Their trip has its share of wrong turns and truths and, despite some unanswered questions when they reach their destination, is profoundly life-affirming.
You owe it to yourself to saddle up with them.