Displaced Person


The Tex-Mex Western The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, written by Guillermo Arriaga and directed by Tommy Lee Jones, is like a guided tour so ineptly planned by travel agents that the bus keeps breaking down, wrong roads are taken, and the destination is never reached, and yet...and yet the views out the window are gorgeous and the company within the bus is oddball enough to be interesting. So the tour was a failure, but you had a memorable time anyway.

The first third of this two-hour movie is the prologue to an odyssey that occupies the remainder of the story. Melquiades (Julio Cesar Cedrillo), a Mexican cowboy who has illegally crossed the border for work, finds a job with an unprejudiced, gruffly good-natured rancher, Pete Perkins (Jones). At the same time, we meet young Mike Norton (Barry Pepper), a transplant from Ohio who has found a job with the Texas border patrol. As friendship grows between Estrada and Perkins, we observe the vapid relationship between Norton and his wife (January Jones), the former working out his insecurity and boredom by beating up illegal immigrants, and the latter sustaining herself by sleeping with Estrada. Completely unknowing of his wife’s adultery, the patrolman accidentally kills Estrada when the Mexican, shooting at a thieving fox, draws the panicked Norton’s return fire. Norton’s superior, fearing bad publicity, does a cover-up. But Perkins, knowing all too well...

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About the Author

Richard Alleva has been reviewing movies for Commonweal since 1990.