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The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (also known as Three Burials)[5] is a 2005 French-American neo-Western film[3] directed by and starring Tommy Lee Jones and written by Guillermo Arriaga.[6] It also stars Barry Pepper, Julio Cedillo, Dwight Yoakam, and January Jones.

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada
The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada Poster.png
Theatrical release poster
Directed byTommy Lee Jones
Produced byLuc Besson
Michael Fitzgerald
Pierre-Ange Le Pogam
Written byGuillermo Arriaga
StarringTommy Lee Jones
Barry Pepper
Julio Cedillo
Dwight Yoakam
January Jones
Music byMarco Beltrami
CinematographyChris Menges
Hector Ortega
Edited byRoberto Silvi
Javelina Film Company
Distributed bySony Pictures Classics
Release date
  • May 20, 2005 (2005-05-20) (Cannes)
  • September 11, 2005 (2005-09-11) (TIFF)
  • November 23, 2005 (2005-11-23) (France)
  • February 3, 2006 (2006-02-03) (US)
Running time
121 minutes[1]
United States[2][3]
Budget$15 million[4]
Box office$13.5 million[4]

The film was inspired by the real-life killing in Texas of a teenager, Esequiel Hernandez Jr, by United States Marines during a military operation near the United States–Mexico border[7] as well as the novel As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner which contains the same plot premise and challenges encountered in the film.[8]

The film has many flashbacks and sometimes the same event is shown from different perspectives.


Melquiades Estrada [melˈkjaðes esˈtɾaða], a Mexican illegal immigrant working in Texas as a cowboy, shoots at a coyote which is menacing his small flock of goats. A nearby United States Border Patrol officer, Norton, thinks he is being attacked and shoots back, killing Melquiades. Norton quickly buries Melquiades and does not report anything. Melquiades' body is found and is reburied in a local cemetery by the sheriff's office. Evidence that he may have been killed by the U.S. Border Patrol is ignored by the local sheriff, Belmont, who would prefer to avoid trouble with the Border Patrol.

Pete Perkins, a rancher and Melquiades' best friend, finds out from a waitress, Rachel, that the killer was Norton. Perkins kidnaps Norton after tying up his wife, Lou Ann, (January Jones), gags her mouth with duct tape and forces him to dig up Melquiades' body. Perkins had promised Melquiades that he would bury him in his home town of Jiménez in Mexico if he died in Texas. Perkins undertakes a journey on horseback into Mexico with the body tied to a mule and his captive Norton in tow. It is clear to Sheriff Belmont that Perkins has kidnapped Norton, and so police officers and the Border Patrol begin to search for them. Belmont sees them heading towards the Mexico border, but as he takes aim at Perkins, he can't bring himself to shoot and returns to town, leaving the pursuit to the border patrol.

On their way across the harsh countryside, the pair experience a series of surrealistic encounters. They spend an afternoon with an elderly blind American man (Levon Helm), who listens to Mexican radio for company. The man asks to be shot since there is no one left to take care of him. He does not want to commit suicide because, he argues, doing so would offend God. Perkins refuses as, if he killed the man, he would offend God. Norton attempts to escape and is bitten by a rattlesnake and eventually discovered by a group of illegal immigrants crossing into Texas. Perkins gives one of them a horse as barter payment for guiding them across the river to an herbal healer. She turns out to be a woman whose nose Norton had broken when he punched her in the face a few weeks previously during an arrest. At Perkins's request, she saves Norton's life before exacting her revenge by breaking Norton's nose with a coffee pot.

The captivity, the tiring journey, and the rotting corpse slowly take a profound psychological toll on Norton. At one point the duo encounter a group of Mexican cowboys watching American soap operas on a television hooked up to their pickup truck. The program is the same episode that was airing when Norton had sex with his wife in their trailer earlier in the movie. Norton is visibly shaken and is given half a bottle of liquor by one of the cowboys. Norton's wife is shown as she decides to leave the border town to return to her home town of Cincinnati. She has grown distant from her husband and seems unconcerned about his kidnapping, stating that he is "beyond redemption".

Perkins and Norton then arrive at a town that is supposed to be near Jiménez—the town Melquiades Estrada claimed was his home. No one in the town has heard of Jiménez. Perkins has some luck in locating a woman Melquiades indicated was his wife but, when Perkins confronts her, she states that she has never heard of Melquiades Estrada and lives in town with her husband and children. She does visibly react to Estrada's Polaroid photograph Perkins shows her of Melquiades standing behind her and her children, stating that she does "...not want to get in trouble with her husband". Perkins continues onward searching for Melquiades' descriptions of a place "filled with beauty". Eventually they come upon a ruined house which Perkins feels was the one Melquiades had mentioned. Perkins and Norton repair the walls, construct a new roof and bury Estrada for the third and final time.

Perkins then demands that Norton beg forgiveness for the killing, but Norton responds with obstinacy. Perkins fires several shots from his pistol around Norton until he breaks down and relents, begging forgiveness from Melquiades. Perkins accepts his outpouring of grief and leaves Norton a horse, and in passing calls him "son". As Perkins rides away, Norton calls out and asks him if he will be okay, suggesting that Norton may have found the redemption his wife had felt he was incapable of having.



The film was shot in the following locations: Big Bend National Park, Big Bend Ranch State Park, Lajitas, Midland, Monahans, Odessa, Van Horn, and Redford, all in Texas.


The film received generally positive reviews; it currently holds an 87% rating at Rotten Tomatoes, where the consensus states: "Tommy Lee Jones' directorial debut is both a potent western and a powerful morality tale."[9]

Awards and nominationsEdit

Cannes Film Festival[10]

Belgian Syndicate of Cinema Critics

Independent Spirit Awards


  1. ^ "THE THREE BURIALS OF MELQUIADES ESTRADA - LOS TRES ENTIERROS DE MELQUIADES ESTRADA (15)". British Board of Film Classification. 2006-01-04. Retrieved 2013-04-20.
  2. ^ "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada". British Film Institute. London. Retrieved November 11, 2012.
  3. ^ a b Buchanan, Jason. "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada". Allmovie. Retrieved November 11, 2012.
  4. ^ a b "Los tres entierros de Melquiades Estrada (2005) - Financial Information". The Numbers. Retrieved 10 March 2018.
  5. ^ "Three Burials - the Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada". Retrieved 23 September 2017.
  6. ^ Allen Barra Archived 2007-03-03 at the Wayback Machine "Screenings: Now on DVD: A Brand-New Classic Western" American Heritage, Oct. 2006.
  7. ^ Dargis, Manohla (2005-12-14). "Dead Man Rising: An Odyssey in Texas". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-07-11.
  8. ^ "As Melquiades Lays Dying". Indiana Daily Student. Retrieved 2019-09-16.
  9. ^ The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada at Rotten Tomatoes
  10. ^ "Festival de Cannes: The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada". Retrieved 2009-12-06.

External linksEdit