Sometimes, the oddball behavior of Hollywood studios is easy enough to deduce; other times, there are certain cinematic phenomena you just can't explain. One of which is why, in the name of all that is good and pure, didn't Sony Classics give The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada a major awards push at the end of 2005. Tommy Lee Jones' dark, gorgeous, melancholy revenge tale is one of the best films of last year by a country mile, and if there's any justice, it will be discovered en masse as the film hits DVD on Tuesday.
Unfolding slowly in a Texas border town, the film early on establishes the murder of the eponymous Mexican ranch hand (Julio Csar Cedillo), found shot in the head in the desert. His employer and compadre, cattle rancher Pete Perkins (Jones, at his laconic best), is devastated; meanwhile, the action occasionally shifts to newly transplanted border guard Mike Norton (the terrific Barry Pepper), a hot-headed testosterone jockey who acts before he thinks in nearly every respect. Pete fights with the police over Melquiades' last wish—if anything should happen, he should be taken home to his family in Mexico and buried in his village—before discovering his friend was accidentally shot by the trigger-happy Norton. Seeing his chance to kill two birds with one stone, he kidnaps the corpse and the guard and drags them both south of the border to fulfill one man's wish and teach another man a lesson he'll never forget.
Often heartbreaking and difficult to watch, Jones' theatrical debut in the director's chair is also magnificently filmed (by the great cinematographer Chris Menghes) and shot with a gentle passion and vicious, blackly comedic streak. Backed by a marvelous cast—Dwight Yoakam and Melissa Leo offer ace support—Jones delivers a gritty slice of Western Gothic that would do Peckinpah proud. The disc includes a commentary with Jones, Yoakam and actress January Jones, who plays Pepper's put-upon wife.
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Also recommended this week: Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid: Collector's Edition; Charlie Chaplin: The Little Tramp Collection; The Chris Rock Show: The Complete 1st & 2nd Season; Dazed & Confused (Criterion Collection); Mommie Dearest: Hollywood Royalty Edition; Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic.