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Saturday Night at the Movies by Dennis Hartley review archive

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Hullabaloo


Saturday, December 30, 2006

 
Saturday Night At The Movies


Crossover Dreams: Borderline Cinema

By Dennis Hartley

The spirit of Sam Peckinpah lives on (sans slo-mo) in The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada. First-time director Tommy Lee Jones casts himself as a contemporary Texas cowboy named Pete who befriends a Mexican “vaquero” (the namesake of the movie’s title). Estrada is an illegal looking for steady work and a brighter future here in the land o’plenty. Jones utilizes flashbacks to illustrate the growing kinship between the two compadres, who bond in the usual “cowboy way”-drinkin’ and whorin’, sleeping under the stars, and reaching a general consensus that A Cowboy’s Life Is The Life For Me (as a great man once sang.) In the key vignette, Estrada confides that, if “something” should ever happen to him, he wishes to be buried in his home town. In half-drunken sentiment, Pete vows to see it through if the unthinkable happens. Guess what happens next?

When Estrada is mysteriously killed, Pete becomes incensed by the indifference of the local authorities, who seem reluctant to investigate. When he learns through the grapevine that his friend was the victim of negligent homicide, thanks to a boneheaded border patrol officer (Barry Pepper), he goes ballistic. He abducts the officer, forces him to dig up the hastily buried Estrada, and informs him that the three amigos are taking a little horseback trip to Mexico (and it ain’t gonna be anything like Weekend at Bernie’s).

Much unpleasantness ensues as the story evolves into a “man on a mission to fulfill an oath” tale…on the surface. Despite the simplistic setup, astute viewers will begin to realize that there is a deeper, mythic subtext; this is one of those films that can really sneak up on you. Although my initial reaction was more visceral than philosophical (I didn’t find any of the characters particularly likeable, it started to feel overlong, and I was repulsed by some of the more graphic scenes) I eventually realized that I had just been taken on an Orphic journey, and it suddenly all made sense. The film gives you hope that, despite the rampant cynicism that abounds in this world, there is something to be said for holding true to a personal code that covets friendship, loyalty and a deep sense of honor.

In today’s climate of post 9/11 paranoia, and self-appointed “minutemen” who “guard” our borders, it’s a damn shame more Americans haven’t seen the 1983 “American Playhouse” drama El Norte, which is only available on Australian PAL DVD (Wha?!). Gregory Nava’s highly effective portrait of two Guatemalan siblings wending their way to the U.S. after their activist father is killed by a government death squad will stay with you long after credits roll. The two leads give naturalistic, completely believable performances as the brother and sister whose desperate optimism never falters, despite fate and circumstance thwarting them at every turn. Claustrophobic viewers be warned: a harrowing scene featuring an encounter with a roving rat colony during an underground border crossing though an abandoned sewer will give you nightmares. And don’t expect a Hollywood ending-this is tough going but thoroughly enlightening. Worth tracking down.

It’s a Lou Dobbs film festival! Try these: Maria Full of Grace, The Border, Lone Star, Touch of Evil, Border Incident.

On the lighter side: Born In East L.A.


Also...

R.I.P. Peter Boyle

According to the perfunctory news obits that aired recently, one might get the impression that the only claims to fame for the late Peter Boyle were his roles in Young Frankenstein, Taxi Driver and on TV’s Everybody Loves Raymond. He may not have been a big marquee name, and may have made a few ill-advised career moves (Where the Buffalo Roam comes to mind) but he was a dependable character actor who always left an indelible impression. Here is some of the Boyle legacy worth revisiting:

Joe-Although the socio-political rhetoric in this 1970 sleeper hasn’t dated so well, this was the starring role that first put Boyle on the map.

The Candidate-Boyle is in top form here as Robert Redford’s savvy political campaign advisor. Boyle delivers a number of wonderfully droll asides with perfect timing.

The Friends of Eddie Coyle (TV only)-A tough, realistic 1973 noir that cries out for a DVD release. Robert Mitchum stars, but Boyle excels as a two-faced, low-rent hit man.

Death and the Compass-This obscure crime thriller (set in a dystopian future) from director Alex Cox is a hit-and-miss affair, but Boyle’s intriguing character fascinates.

The X-Files - The Complete Third Season (Slim Set)-Worth renting just to watch the episode “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose”, a fan favorite that spotlights a memorable Boyle performance.

-DH



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