I always enjoy a film that surprises me and there were quite a few surprises in The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada.
First of all, the movieís got a great story. Basically, a friend promises another friend that he will make sure heís buried back in his home. This gives rise to the multiple burials in the title. The story follows this friendís journey to keep his promise.
Tommy Lee Jones plays Pete, the hero of this modern western, whose journey takes him through the back country of the Lone Star state meeting all kinds of characters. The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada is the kind of film that gets you excited to see what happens next. The kind of film that leaves you wondering what will happen next. Not knowing where we are going is a big part of the fun of this film.
Also, there are a few twists and turns. These arenít M Night Shyamalan style reveals. These are more subtle surprises. They are enough to keep us interested but not so crazy as to make us doubt what we are seeing.
Jones directs himself in this little story which is fortunately more than just a vanity piece. His direction is a bit schizophrenic as the two halves of the film donít gel well. For the first part of the film there is a great deal of jumping back and forth in time and there is little to distinguish a flashback from the present story line. Therefore the audience is left somewhat confused and this could have been enough to loose us except that he picks it up half way through.
At this point, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada takes on a more traditional, linear structure and the story takes over to very rewarding effect. A more skilled director may have been able to make the first part work to his advantage but Jones doesnít exploit that gimmick well. Still, the story saves the film.
Jones is much better as the star of the film. He brings a strength and vulnerability to his character that is pleasant to watch. He helps sell the story by making us care a great deal about himself and his dead friend.
Good stories always makes for good filmmaking and The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada is one good story.