Okay, folks, don't get too excited. The fact I've done another film here doesn't mean it's gonna be a fantastically action packed flick. Yup, that's right, it's time for more Artsy Modern Western. More like, perhaps, Western-Esque. But given the roots of the setting's history and the style of violence that takes place in the picture, this does work. So if you're looking for action, wait til next month (or next week, I may pop up another to make up for being late on this one). But if you want something with characters, drama, and a lot of symbolic storytelling - here ya go with
The Stats: Director: Tommy Lee Jones Cast: Tommy Lee Jones, Barry Pepper, Dwight Yoakam, Melissa Leo Type: Modern-setting Mexican Tale/Artsy Western-inspired flick Supercool Trivia: Tommy Lee's directorial debut! Availability:Amazon US -Amazon UK - Amazon Germany (UK import) - pretty good
The Content: Checklist:
Impoverished Locale - CHECK! (border areas, rural Mexico) Tough oldschool Cowboy - CHECK! Sheriff With Sympathy - CHECK! Disabled Man Living On His Own - CHECK! Texas-as-Mexico Landscapes - CHECK! Sam Peckinpah Homages - CHECK! (primarily Alfredo Garcia) Old Western Guns In Modern Setting - CHECK! (revolver, lever-action Winchester) Keeping Your Word To Your Friend - CHECK! Justice For The Bad Guy - CHECK! Sleazy Dives 'n' Such - CHECK!
(there's probably some more, but I got distracted in all the cool symbols this time around)
Okay, when it comes to "Westerns," one thing we define it as is utilizing one of the most important aspects of its history and one reason the frontier succeeded in this country - a sense of taking justice into one's own hands if necessary, creating a law of your own and making a life for yourself the best you could. For all the trimmings we put on a flick set in the Wild West, this is something that historically is true in most cases and is utilized most often in Western films. Having said that, it's also the main key reason why Three Burials can be called a Western, as this holds up that quality, along with a few more "Western Cliches," high and mighty and damn proud of it. So before we get into the fact that in many ways this is an art film let's get the fact straight - yes, this is a western. Yes, it is set in present day times. Yes, it is also an artsy modern western. But it still counts in my book and it should in yours, too.
So anyway. Three Burials (I'm not gonna type out the whole title that many times and the acronym looks silly (TBME?)) is a story about a Ranch hand (Tommy Lee Jones) who's befriended a Mexican immigrant (Julio Cedillo as Melquiades) and promises that if anything is to happen to Mel on the American plains, for his body to be buried in his hometown of Jimenez. Sure enough, something does happen, and Melquiades is shot down by Border Patrolman Mike Norton (Barry Pepper - stellar as always) in an accidental gunfight, then buried haphazardly to cover up the evidence, and again by the local Sheriffs in the local cemetary.
Pete don't take too kindly to this and once he finds out who done the bad thing of killing his friend, he tracks the man down, kidnaps him, grabs the body, and the two (technically three) set out on horseback towards Mexico and the mythical land of Jimenez.
However, this event is merely one of a sum of reactions to the murder and part of an overall reflection of life by the Mexican border, for people who live in the small towns and in the kind of dead-end lives you really wish nobody had to exist in. As we, the audience, progress through the film it becomes very evident that although there's a very possibly lean story in this premise, the screenwriter Guilliermo Arriaga has a bit more to say about the enviornment and the people who live within such a world.
I know this comes off as quite different from the films I usually discuss here, but this film is one of those unique cases where Cinema becomes Art in the right kind of way - without sacrificing good entertaining storytelling.
With most films with 'western influence,' often they get wrapped up in the story and the plot, sometimes to the point of not having much of a meaning in it. As much as I love Way of the Gun (which I'll be reviewing at a later time), it's obviously all plot and 70s exploitation grit. But in the case of Three Burials, there's a lot to be gleamed from the vibe, characters, and even little scenes that seem like throwaways. If you're someone who wants some meat and substance, you'll definitely get it with this one.
Oh and just for clarification, this film was done awhile back, far enough that it was just before this whole "Immigrant Issue" became really big in the U.S., so it doesn't really try to do any of that "Border" b.s. that a Hollywood Message film of today would. This is a good thing. ^_^
But as great as the script is, telling the first 45 minutes in a Nicholas Roeg style (meaning completely abstract sense of time, keeping events out of order until you work out a chronology in your head) and packing symbols about lack of initiative and having faith, the film also is a visual feast. Tommy Lee Jones, for his first directing gig, does an amazing job of picking crew. The look and texture is hot, sweaty, dirty, and dusty. But even in all its bleak and stressful conditions, there's amazing beauty to be found. Be it the surrealistic shot of Barry Pepper running from his captor in a desert, going from sand to a sudden patch of yellow flowers in one single pan - or the subtlety of just watching a pair of guys on horseback walking across the plains of Texas while the sun sets.
And for all the beauty, the film's also very naturalistic in an almost Cinema Verite fashion for most of the scenes in civilization, letting us really get into the setting of being at the local diner or the grungy trailer park, helping us relate and sympathize with the characters. The editing, cinematography, and general staging of the picture really adds up these elements well, giving an overall presentation that's very enveloping and unique, yet with obvious influences from filmmakers of the past.
As for the performances, how the actors did, we got pretty much quality work across the board. Although Tommy's not always bang-on-the-dot astounding due to being a little distracted, it works for his emotionally wounded and grumpy character who's aged to a point where he probably didn't expect to lose friends in his life anymore. Barry Pepper is astounding as the Patrolman, a jock and popular who's now living "The Job" - a mundane and horrid life where his marriage is nothing more than "I'll drive you to the mall, honey" or "let's have some hump in the kitchen." Barry's freaking fantastic and if you've been a fan of his work since Saving Private Ryan, he's still kicking ass, I must say. Julio Cedillo as Melquiades also works fantastically, with a personality who's average, at times very innocent, and generally a good fellow. His character is played very humble, earnest, and thankful for every day he has alive. The smaller roles (Dwight Yoakam, Melissa Leo, and January Jones) are all well played also, with Melissa's waitress character being the kind of cheatin' wife you can actually like. Dwight, as always, does a lot with very little screentime, and gives one of the most Peckinpah-esque bits of loyalty and friendship in the film. So overall - if you want good acting as well, dig on this you probably shall.
Really, the entire film is pretty A-list, which is one of the benefits of it being an Art film. You may not get your visceral action and you'll probably see scenes that appear tossed in for "shock" value or general grittiness (the sex stuff appeared a bit superflorous on first viewing to me, but I warmed to what it was trying to say), but this is overall the kind of movie that's meant to win awards as well as give the audience something totally unique to experience.
I've been kind of vague in my review here, which I apologize for, but this is a pretty deep and complicated film for it's 2 hour running time. Things like this are hard to estimate, but that's part of what makes them special. You have to be elaborate on them. Hopefully, if you dig the flick, it'll be worthy of some discussion here.
Til next time, gents.
(NEXT TIME: Not sure, probably a spaghetti western)
Well I've always enjoyed Tommy Lee Jones, & your descriptions/observations tend to make me think I won't miss seeing a lot of action in this one. I'll stop by the video store tomorrow after work & see if they have it. If not, I guess it's time to think about signing up with net-flicks or something. Another very well written review. Hopefully I'll be able to post more comments here soon.
I viewed it last night. Pretty much everything Futsin said is spot on. I can see why one might be tempted to call this a western but I'm not sure I'd categorize it as such. I enjoyed the film & I'm glad it was reviewed here. Otherwise I might not have seen it. Barry Pepper's performance was exceptional! A word of caution to parents: you won't want your kids around if you rent this one.
DEADMAN wrote:Kina...yeah...thats kinda rude you suck
@Deadman: I don't know what is going on in your mind, but if you didn't like the "Western movie of the month", or that particular movie ... fine. Also, if you are not a Western movie fan, that's fine too. But insulting people, especially our film "guru" (don't take that word seriously ... if you see what I mean ) EvilFutsin, that is something I won't tolerate. So, if you have childish post like that, you'd better keep them for you and ignore the "Western Movie of the Month" topic.
I saw this movie a while ago. I though it was a good flick, although I agree with Red. Its borderline western, but it definitely not a spaghetti western that our oh so beloved game is based off of. Thank you for the review EvilFutsin.
@Daedman: EvilFutsin donates his time to write these extensive reviews. I think this section of the forums adds to the character of the game and the website. EvilFutsin's efforts are greatly appreciated. Please be curious while posting on these fourms.
Well I guess only DEADMAN knows the true meaning of his posts. Although, it's fairly easy to wonder if they are appropriate given what we see here. (Both posts seem to come from the same IP. Quite confusing.)He should have put something like "JK" at the end to avoid confusion if he was making an attempt at scarcasm. In the future, I would suggest more meaningful conversation pertaining to the film. If someone doesn't like the MOTM they should at least go into a little detail as to why. I'm sure disagreements with the review would only spark interesting debate. I don't see anything in Futsin's reply to the "CHOKE" comment that suggests a rude disposition on his part. And replies like "You Suck" leaves too much to the imagination. Like Hika said, Futsin donates his valuable time to do these elaborate reviews for us. We should strive to be somewhat courteous out of respect for that. As for for Futsin's straying from the traditional spaghetti western theme, it doesn't bother me at all. As long as it's "western flavored" & he thinks it's worth watching, it's good for me & I get to watch films I might not view otherwise. Keep up the good work hoss. I look forward to each & every review.
Next time ill remember the J/k i guess Anywayz i don't mind the movie it just isent my cup o tea.And the choke was an accident i was telling my friend to choke on MSN but i typed it here on accident.sorry for that one. And thank you L3th4l for stickin up for me.Your awesome