2021 Movie Draft: The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada

2021 Movie Draft: Round 6, Pick 4


Genre: Western

Pride and Prejudice: The Western

The murdered body of Melquiades Estrada is buried in a hurry because the shooting and the politics are too complicated to stand trial near the Mexican border. Best friend of Estrada, Pete Perkins (Tommy Lee Jones), realizes that no further investigation of the murder will ensue, so he takes justice into his own hands by kidnapping the border patrolman who took Estrada’s life and forces him at gunpoint to disinter Melquiades from his grave and transport him to home soil in Mexico for a proper burial.

Unbeknownst to the patrolman (Barry Pepper of Saving Private Ryan), this road trip to the cemetery will be hot, dusty, and grueling as Pete flirts with madness and his own reconciliation.

Tough, sporadically funny, and definitely grisly, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada is an audacious neo-western. You have your whiskery hero with a cowboy hat who lives by his own code, several bonding moments between stubborn men, retribution for the coward character, and the lesson that maybe vengeance isn’t always the best solution. Add a few flashbacks, and, of course, a woman to complicate things, and you are all set.

This is also the directorial debut for Tommy Lee Jones, who captures the western beautifully with the help of some radiant cinematography by Chris Menges of The Mission (1986) and a cunning script by Mexican writer Guillermo Arriaga of Amores Perros (2000) and 21 Grams (2003).

Film buffs will catch glimpses of the same grittiness seen in Sam Peckinpah’s Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974) and similar morality lessons seen John Huston’s The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948). True, Jones’s film may not be an original, but it does play homage to the memorable classics set in the old west.

This was one of the best films of 2005, but I am also reluctant to recommend the film because the western genre is so frowned upon by our younger generations these days. (I blame it on the upsweep of reality T.V. and short attention spans.)

My suggestion is to watch this movie simply for the sake of Tommy Lee Jones’s extraordinary performance. Or, simply sit back and enjoy the gorgeous landscape shots to Marco Beltrami’s sweeping film score.

Or, see it because it contains one of the best lines at the end of a movie.

12 thoughts on “2021 Movie Draft: The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada

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  1. To refute your argument a bit, I’m below 40 and love good Westerns (well, more of the anti-western, Unforgiven vibe than the classics, but the classics too). I did enjoy the heck out of Westworld s01 and I absolutely love Mando 😀

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Hmm… depends on how you define Western, I think. I’m partial to the genre because to me it embodies many aspects of American culture – Western and urban noir are two sides of the same coin, I’d say.
        So if you want to see the aspect of human struggle/wonder in relationship with nature, there are films that fit. But if you think along the lines of civilizing the wilderness and the inner morality vs outside chaos, the only thing that comes to mind is Luhrmann’s Australia which is completely derivative of American Western though set in Australian interior.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Great point and movie example. Luhrmann tends to be all style and no substance, but I liked Australia a lot. I just got a text from a graduate student of mine who is 18 and just finished a film class and told me her new favorites are Red River, My Darling Clementine, and High Noon, so I stand corrected 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Ooh, High Noon! 😁 And Morricone spaghetti westerns 😉 Though I prefer Peckinpah.

            Also, I do love the Western meta layer in movies like The Negotiator where Shane serves as a representation of both the protagonists’ alignment and difference in their worldviews.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. You’ll have to clarify what you mean by The Negotiator. The Samuel L./Kevin Spacey flick comes to mind, but I haven’t seen that in a long time.

              I prefer Peckinpah too! Raw, relentless, and gritty 🙂

              Liked by 1 person

    1. Great question. All the fans of Westworld I know are age 40+ Let me know if you know of a younger crowd (?) I just can’t think of the last conversation I had with a millennial about The Searchers, Red River, or anything Leone. Now, I will say that some of these younger peeps understand and interpret the “western” out of The Mandalorian, and I commend them for that!

      Liked by 1 person

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