A man is shot and quickly buried in the high desert of West Texas. The body is found and reburied in Van Horn’s town cemetery. Pete Perkins, a local ranch foreman (TOMMY LEE JONES) kidnaps a Border Patrolman and forces him to disinter the body. With his captive in tow and the body tied to a mule Pete undertakes a dangerous and quixotic journey into Mexico.
Guillermo Arriaga’s dramatic and poetic script weaves past and present as it gradually reveals a great friendship, the lonely subterfuge of an illegal migrant’s life, the cost of a promise made and kept, and culminates in the redemption of a callous if accidental killer.
The U.S.-Mexico border has long been plagued with violence and racism, and many of the events that unfold in The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada are accurate depictions of the ongoing abuse of human rights in the region. But the film offers, in its conclusion, a pure form of contrition for wrongs committed, and a striking note of empathy for the lives so changed.