Sunday, March 12, 2006

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada

After having his mummified corpse dragged through the desert by a seriously sadistic Tommy Lee Jones, it looks like Melquiades Estrada will have a short life on Middle Georgia movie screens.

I'm not certain since I like to sit in about the fifth row and didn't look behind me, but I think I was the only person who had to sit through this cinematic version of water torture Sunday at noon at the AmStar.

Tommy Lee Jones could have learned something about elementary filmmaking from the recent Hollywood issue of Vanity Fair. Along with Keira Knightley and Scarlett Johannson in the buff on the cover, a definite plus, there's an article inside about the making of "Reds," Warren Beatty's great ode to Communism.

After recruiting historian Trevor Griffiths to help with the script, Beatty rejected his first draft as being "humorless," a sensation I felt watching "Three Burials."

Granted, it's a fairly somber story, that of cowboy Jones, whose mexican compadre on the range is accidentally killed by border guard Barry Pepper. We find out that Pepper is the bad guy because, of course, he enjoys beating up people trying to cross the border illegally. Through it all, the only time I laughed was at that joke about the old blind guy, which is, of course, in the trailer.

It doesn't help that much of the story involves Jones dragging Pepper's character and his dead buddy through the desert to his burial site - for what seemed like at least five hours. In all this time, you would think maybe he was teaching Pepper something, but as far as I could tell he just wanted to torture him and us.

After about 45 minutes of the three of them traveling through the desert, my mind began to drift like Skip Caray's in about the sixth inning or so of a lopsided Braves game.

I thought how nice it was to see Melissa Leo again (as a waitress of rather loose morals,) and how she had starred in my two favorite, back-to-back episodes of "Homicide": the one where she goes home to the Eastern Shore only to find a waterman she knows involved in a killing, and the one where Pembleton (the great Andre Braugher) says as a Catholic he can't attend the funeral of a comrade who committed suicide. Simply two of the best hours of television ever made.

I also thought how it was nice to hear that cheatin' hotel song by Hank Jr. about a half hour earlier, and how I should listen to that album tonight. I wondered why, if all Barry Pepper's character wanted to do was beat up on people of color, he couldn't have just stayed in his hometown of Cincinnati and become a cop.

And I thought that Pepper, who was great in Spike Lee's underrated "25th Hour," deserves much, much better than this fairly awful movie.

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