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Film / The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada

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The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada is a 2005 neo-Western crime drama film directed by and starring Tommy Lee Jones in his directorial debut.

Melquiades Estrada (Julio César Cedillo), a Mexican working as a ranch hand in Texas, is killed through a misunderstanding, and his body hidden in a shallow grave. After his body is discovered, it is given a proper burial, but Melquiades' best friend Pete (Jones), who knows that he wanted to be buried in Mexico, decides to steal the body and take it back to Melquiades' home town — with the extremely unwilling assistance of Norton (Barry Pepper), the man who killed him.


  • Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie: Pete, knowing that Melquiades wanted to be buried at home in Mexico, decides to dig up his body and take it back to Mexico for re-burial.
  • Character Development: The whole plan to bury Melquiades in Mexico seems to be as much about burying him where he wanted, as it is about forcing Norton into becoming a better person.
  • Grave Robbing: Whether or not Melquiades would have wished it, Pete and (forcibly) Norton do this when they dig him up.
  • I Cannot Self-Terminate: The party meets an old, blind man who asks to be killed. See, life ain't easy, he's old, and to commit suicide would be a sin. They reply killing him would be a sin, too.
  • New Old West: The protagonists are cowboys and frontiersmen, and most of the film consists of their travel through wilderness areas, with what little civilization is shown being minor settlements in the countryside.
  • Oppressive Immigration Enforcement: The whole plot occurs because a Jerkass Border Patrol officer hears gunfire near him (Mr. Estrada, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, shooting a coyote that was attacking his flock), thinks he is under attack, and without any further thinking shoots Estrada dead and, once noticing what he has accidentally done, buries him to try to fend off investigation. He is partially successful — when proper authorities encounter Estrada's burial site, they just place him in a common grave without looking into things further, but Estrada's former boss finds the officer and forces him at gunpoint to unbury Estrada and come with him to Mexico to bury Estrada in his home town as he often had told his boss he desired.
  • Riddle for the Ages: Just what was it that Melquiades really had in mind? The place he claimed he was from turned out nothing like he had described, including the people living there, although by all means it seemed to be the right one. The implication seems to be that Melquiades told Pete tall tales, perhaps of how he wished things were back home.