The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada

The path to redemption never did run smooth. In this here case, it involves being dragged through cowboy country by a gruff, slightly unhinged Tommy Lee Jones, and then getting shriven with bullets. On the DVD the writer Guillermo Arriaga stresses that he is not a religious man, so we will avoid pulling out easy metaphors. And to be fair, Jones (who directed the film) refrains from using Christian symbols in the final absolution scene. Perhaps he thought that would be too easy, obvious and tired.

Plus, he wanted to focus on other things. Again on the DVD, we got to hear him talk about the shared culture Texans and Mexicans have, and how an artificial political border, upheld through violence, runs through it. It strikes me that Jones isn't at all happy with America. In his film, he mentors a masturbating, cowardly, self-centred jock in the ways of the wild. He holds the older generation (such as the blind man in the desert) and Mexicans of all stripes in higher regard. His heart also bleeds for the women of America, tied down and unfulfilled by good-for-nothing husbands. The Mexican medicine-woman is much sassier by comparison.

All these broad brush-strokes sit a little ill with me. Is Mexico's culture 'purer' than that of Texas? Then again, it's not like I know Jones's country better than Jones himself. The contrasts he gathers together are certainly interesting, and they are presented in beautiful, stark slow-motion shots of everyday life. And I like pretty things.

I do find Guillermo Arriaga's pechant for disorientating, non-linear storytelling a little annoying. He is the man behind the 21 Grams screenplay, which told a simple story in a needlessly complex way. Arriaga justifies his approach by saying that when we tell stories, we usually don't proceed in an orderly fashion. I would reply that neither do we seek to confound the listener. Arriaga's cut-up narratives are a cheap trick, and this film didn't need it. I could guess what was happening well before the 'revelation' was presented to us, and would have preferred the story to unfold without the flashy editing. The latter half of the film, where the device is abandoned, is much more gripping and enjoyable.

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