The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada

Bomb Rating: 

I don't know how religious Tommy Lee Jones is, but his parable of a man, a journey, and the power of forgiveness reeks of the level of smug righteousness that only a man like Pat Robertson could hope to match.

I don't know how religious Tommy Lee Jones is, but his parable of a man, a journey, and the power of forgiveness reeks of the level of smug righteousness that only a man like Pat Robertson could hope to match.

The film takes place in a Texas border town where life barely moves and a tenuous relationship exists between the working class, the local cops and the border police. One of the problems, as one might guess, is the varying degrees of sympathy and hostility displayed toward the immigrants, both legal and illegal. Pete Perkins (Tommy Lee Jones) forms a friendship with one such illegal immigrant, Melquiades Estrada (Julio Cedillo) and naturally we learn, despite the subtitles, that Melquiades is a wonderful, wonderful person. Not only is he a wonderful Mexican, but he's jut flat-out a wonderful human being, giving and generous and a family man too! In fact, I bet he'd be a wonderful American if somebody would just give him citizenship and teach him English.

So it really sucks when a local border cop named Mike Norton (Barry Pepper) accidentally shoots Melquiades and kills him. Actually, it's less an accident than an act of complete stupidity, but since Norton doesn't really like Mexicans, he doesn't much care. Pete, however, does, and he eventually finds out that Mike is the culprit and sets out to return his friend's body to Mexico and teach Norton a lesson by forcibly dragging him along.

Now, I won't go into what exactly happens after this, but suffice it to say that Tommy Lee Jones takes what one might term a mildly "pro-immigration" stance. In other words, virtually every Mexican he meets once he crosses the border treats him like a family member. Meanwhile, the people living in the border town are portrayed as amoral feebs. Mean Mike Norton has a gorgeous wife, Lou Ann (January Jones), whom he manages to pump a couple times before ejaculating and nearly fainting. Lacking sexual satisfaction, Lou Ann befriends a local waitress, Rachel (Melissa Leo), who is married, but finds time to sleep with both Pete and the local sheriff, Belmont (Dwight Yoakam), because she has nothing better to do. Belmont is without a moral center. He just doesn't care about the murder and this is symbolized by the fact that he can't get it up with Rachel.

It's telling how Jones portrays the two male characters for whom the audience is supposed to have the most contempt. Belmont needs Viagra and Norton can't keep his stiffy stiff for more than three seconds. Thus, when you get right down to it, this is like an artsy version of the high school shower where one boy makes fun of another's manhood. Not only is Tommy Lee Jones unhappy with the lack of morals displayed by these characters, but he finds it necessary to rub it in that their peters don't work. By contrast, Tommy Lee Jones's character, perky Peter Perkins, stands firm and tall, spewing the righteous seed of justice throughout the land. If you're in the audience, I'd advise you to stand clear.

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