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The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (R)

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, which marks veteran character actor Tommy Lee Jones' directing debut, is a bizarre little indie film with a mouthful of a title and seems in search of a point. The first two burials, as told in some awkward, Rashomon-meets-Pulp Fiction narrative, fly by rather simply enough. We see, in between burials, the friendship between two not-quite-as-Brokeback Mountain-gay cowboys, Pete (Jones) and the doomed, illegal alien Melquiades (Julio Cedillo), and how new border patrol officer Mike (Barry Pepper) came to kill him. But before we know it we're on a journey to Mexico -- ah, yes, the journey, the journey of self-discovery, no? -- as Pete kidnaps Mike and forces him to face his guilt. But Pete, noble though he may seem, isn't at peace with himself either. Screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga (21 Grams, Amores Perros) has been down this road before -- are we all just living a lie? -- though perhaps not quite as dusty as here, and you can sense Jones trying to milk some meaning out of this sotry beyond its border-frontier wisps of melancholy, prejudice and existentialism. But Jones is always fun to watch, even in sadness, and some critics have been duly impressed with Jones' references to Sam Peckinpah's moody Westerns. -- David Lee Simmons

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