The 2000s saw a reinvention of the western, whether it be the deeply melancholy The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, the examination of evil in No Country for Old Men, or the tender love story that propels Brokeback Mountain. Though more modest and less commercially successful than those other three examples, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada is absolutely deserving to be mentioned in the same breath. This 2005 drama concerns the surreal Tex-Mex road trip of a rancher (Tommy Lee Jones) and a racist border cop (Barry Pepper), who set out to properly bury the body of immigrant laborer Melquiades Estrada (Julio César Cedillo), whom the cop accidentally killed. The Three Burials was Jones' directorial debut, and much like the actor himself the film is a spare, no-nonsense depiction of honor and redemption, which nonetheless makes room for a deep wellspring of emotion and offbeat grace notes. A smarter discussion of racial intolerance and America's evolving melting pot than Crash, which came out the same year, the film boasts one of Jones' best performances, and it spotlights two actresses who would go on to bigger things in the near future: January Jones (of Mad Men fame) and Melissa Leo (of Frozen River). This screening will be part of the American Society of Cinematographers' celebration of its 2009 International Achievement Award winner Chris Menges, who infused The Three Burials' barren landscapes with a ravishing beauty that is both mysterious and treacherous.
Wed., Feb. 24, 7:30 p.m., 2010

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