Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada. A

Three Burials represents a series of bests for those involved in it: Tommy Lee Jones gives arguably his finest performance, Barry Pepper gets to take full advantage of his astonishing face and therefore gives his best work, and Guillermo Arriaga, a daring but frustrating screenwriter (he's the man of twisty narratives and multiple story lines as in 21 Grams, Amoros Perros, and Babel), offers easily his best piece of writing. A modern Western seasoned with with plenty of McCarthy, Faulkner, and Peckinpah, Three Burials is wonderfully atmospheric and alive, but one of the reasons it works so well is because of how the material is handled. Jones is also directing the film, and I imagine if he felt like it he could direct a hundred more really good Westerns. He knows how to tell these types of stories, how they should look and feel. Luckily, he's got a script from Arriaga that's fairly linear and focused. There are a few flashbacks, but they're well placed and integral to the story, and he only uses multiple story lines for the first third before all the characters come together for the rest of the film. The movie is startlingly intelligent, a deft, tightly packed examination of honor. The amazing thing though is that Arriaga strays away from portentous dialogue. Most of the conversation is either for advancing the plot or to demonstrate feelings of anger or happiness or pain in the characters. I loved it. Also, great Levon Helm performance here, too. 

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