Tommy Lee Jones wrote his Harvard thesis on Catholic writer Flannery O'Connor. At the time it no doubt seemed like a subject with little relevance to the craft of filmmaking, but, in The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, it serves him remarkably well. Jones himself has admitted that the spirit of O'Connor looms heavy on his directorial debut, and indeed, Jones' first solo flight bears uncanny aesthetic and theological similarities to O'Connor's short fiction—dark humor, startling violence, spiritual restlessness, a flare for the grotesque, and a keen understanding of man's depravity that will doubtless strike some moviegoers as mere misanthropism.
Of course, O'Connor's stories were all set in the American Southeast—usually Georgia—while Jones' film is a Western, set in both Texas and upper Mexico. Aside from that, though, you'd swear Jones had uncovered the great lost Flannery O'Connor story and turned it into a movie. He clearly views the world through a pair of O'Connor shaded glasses—he views humanity as twisted and ridiculously monstrous creatures that seem hell-bent on their own destruction. Maybe he's being too cynical, or maybe he's read the first chapter of Romans. Either way, Jones doesn't let his fiendish, freakish cast of characters turn his movie into a downer—like O'Connor, he mines the darkness and finds in it a gleaming sense of the absurd. Is it dark? Heck yeah. But it's also sharply funny, even when it cuts so close to the bone it makes us feel more than a little uncomfortable.
As the title implies, Three Burials is a movie about death, but, more than that, it's a movie about friendship, grace, justice, and above all redemption. Jones stars as Pete, a rugged Texas cowboy who's ...1