Landscapes, foreign and familiar
TOMMY LEE JONES didn’t go far from home, or stray from his heart, for his feature-film directorial debut, “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada.”
The Oscar-winning actor has roamed the wilds of west Texas his entire life and knows intimately the contradictions its land offers -- brutal heat and killer frosts, lengthy droughts and flash floods -- as well as the emotional, psychological, spiritual and social implications of having an international border in the middle of one culture.
So when Jones struck up a friendship with Mexican screenwriter and novelist Guillermo Arriaga (“21 Grams” and “Amores Perros”) and the two decided during a hunting trip that they wanted to work on a movie together, the topic came quite easily.
“He’s interested in making movies about his country and its history, and I’m interested in making movies about my country and its history,” Jones said. “We both knew those two countries are the same.”
In the film, due out Dec. 14, Jones plays Pete, a Texas rancher who takes revenge when his best friend, a Mexican ranch hand named Melquiades Estrada, is killed by a border patrol agent. The revenge tale turns into an eye-opening road trip when Pete kidnaps the border officer at gunpoint and forces him to bury his friend in his native village.
Without making any political statements, “Three Burials” explores justice and racism as it drives home the point that the culture is the same on both sides of the Rio Grande.
In Texas, a blind man listens to a Mexican radio station even though he doesn’t understand Spanish, just because he likes the way the language sounds. In Mexico, a group of vaqueros entertain themselves around a campfire watching an American soap opera on a battery-operated television set.
“I’m hoping that it might open the possibility for anyone to stand on one side of the river and come to understand that the person looking back at them is them,” Jones said.