Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada


This is the second time Tommy Lee Jones has made a long, difficult journey with a dead body to honor someone’s wish. Years ago it was Augustus McCrae; this time it’s this guy whose name I can’t pronounce. And take it from me, Tommy, that was your only mistake as a director, but it was a big one. Never use something hard to pronounce in a title. People won’t talk about something they don’t feel sure about pronouncing. This advice is from a man who’s first book was titled The Ophiuchi Hotline, and who is still explaining to baffled people how to pronounce it. Would it have been so hard to call the man Jose Estrada? He’s fictional, after all.

Other than that, I thought this was a great little movie. An asshole macho rookie border patrol agent, who seems to regard the Mexican border as a marine might regard Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima, accidentally shoots a friend of Pete Perkins, a cowboy. It becomes clear that the cops know who did it, but don’t want any trouble. He was only a wetback. It’s a perfect set-up for a big Death Wish or Dirty Harry doo-dah, full of fisticuffs and shooting and sweet revenge. But Pete isn’t interested in that. He has his code, and he won’t let things like due process get in the way of justice … but his idea of justice isn’t so simplistic. What he wants is atonement, and he gets it, and it just feels right. In the last line of the movie the rookie utters the first vaguely human words he has uttered in two hours. So maybe he has learned something.