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Blu-ray Review

DVD cover

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada


Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Barry Pepper and Julio Cedillo
Optimum Home Entertainment
RRP: £24.99
Certificate: 18
Available 06 April 2009

Melquiades Estrada has been murdered. As a migrant Mexican worker nobody seems to care, but Pete Perkins does and vows to find the killer and force him to take the body back to Mexico so that his friend can be buried in his own private Eldorado...

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2005 - 1 hr, 56 min, 14 sec) is a drama from first time director Tommy Lee Jones from a script by Guillermo Arriaga. The film won four awards and was nominated for a further seven.

The film opens with a long tracking shot of the desert where two rookie agents accidentally kill Estrada (Julio Cedillo) dumping his body in a shallow grave. From then on we see the first meeting between ranch manager Pete Perkins (Tommy Lee Jones) and Estrada who is looking for work as an illegal alien. A friendship grows between the two men and when the police, in the guise of town sheriff (Dwight Yoakam), seem unwilling to investigate the killing Perkins takes matters into his own hands. Here you might think that Perkins's idea of justice would be hunting down and killing the agent, but Perkins is a man with a strong sense of not only justice but more importantly a knowledge of what is right.

Although the desert vistas of the film give it a big look, this is very much a focused character piece, more of an investigation of Pete Perkins and his straight talking; no nonsense view of the world. A lesser film would have had him kill the agent, but Tommy Lee Jones takes the time to paint the backdrop of Estrada’s killing, the exploitation of the Mexicans and the brutality given out to any Mexican caught by the Border Patrol, especially Mike Norton (Barry Pepper).

Perkins eventually kidnaps Norton, making him dig up Estrada’s body, and the two men head off to Mexico. Like many a road movie before it is the journey which not only returns the body to his family but also turns out to be a voyage of discovery for Norton, full of surprises and a very satisfying end.

The story is told in segments which flit back and forth in time allowing the narrative to be told from the perspective of different characters; each segment has its own chapter heading. The film slowly builds up a picture of both the public and private lives of those involved, from seedy affairs which connect the main players to produce a rich and rounded film.

The disc comes with a good set of extras. First up is the Making of (26 min, 14 sec) which looks at the film, with contributions from the director and some of the cast, as well as some on set shooting and a discussion about the relationship between the American and the Mexicans. The piece finishes with shots from the premier of the film. There no real in depth look at the film on offer here, though word of warning, don’t watch the extras before you’ve seen the film as it gives too much of the plot away.

Next up is is The Making of the Music (7 min, 55 sec) with Tommy explaining how the chosen music supported the film with contributions from Tommy Lee Jones and Marco Beltrami, the composer. There are deleted and extended scenes (27 min, 17 sec) it is always a bit of an education into film making to see what has been cut, better still if there is either an introduction to the scene or a commentary. Unfortunately this section has neither. Lastly there is an interview with Tommy Lee Jones and Guillermo Arriaga (13 min, 40 sec). This is a live filmed event, unfortunately the disc does not come with an option for subtitles, so unless you're French is pretty good you’ll have no idea what the interviewer is asking them. Thankfully the guests answer in English.

The Blu-ray is presented with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 with a DTS HD Master audio track. Both picture and audio are nice and clean. Included in the audio section is a full length commentary with Tommy Lee Jones, Dwight Yoakam and January Jones. It’s an amiable enough affair but only gives fleeting glimpses into the making of the film.

As a study of friendship, the fragility of ego and the absurd lengths Perkins goes to get his friends back home the film delivers a very satisfying experience.


Charles Packer

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