March 17, 2006

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada

threeburialsMelquiades Estrada (Julio Cesar Cedillo) is a Mexican cowboy in Texas. While tending his goats, Melquiades is shot and killed by Border Patrol officer Mike Norton (Barry Pepper) who mistakes Melquiades for a sniper. Legally, the shooting could be called justified (Melquiades was shooting towards Norton, but he was shooting at a coyote) but there were no witnesses and Norton is wound way too tight for the job. When Melquiades's friend and fellow cowboy Pete Perkins (Tommy Lee Jones) discovers that the local sheriff (Dwight Yoakam) is going to do nothing about the shooting, Pete brutally abducts Norton at gunpoint and forces him on a tortured trek on horseback to return Melquiades's body to his hometown in Mexico.

Pete literally drags Norton across the brutal landscape, handcuffed and barefoot. Norton is beaten, starved, sunburned, drowned, snakebit, starved, burned, and beaten some more. All we know for sure is that Pete wants to keep Norton alive long enough to make him bury Melquiades. This act will fulfill Pete's friendship to Melquiades, but will Pete decide that Norton has repaid his debt to Melquiades? It doesn't matter that the shooting wasn't murder per se. Before Pete abducts him, we see that Norton is torn apart with self-loathing for this shooting. The abduction and journey are a simple metaphor for what Norton's doing to himself on the inside. Only when Pete forces him to seek forgiveness (at gunpoint) does Norton unload his grief.

NOTE: Emily proposed this movie. I offered to go to the Capitol Theater and see Match Point while she saw Three Burials. When we got to the theater, the Match Point screening had been canceled due to a projector problem, so I joined Emily for The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada.