cert 15 rrp: #17.99, ****
Tommy Lee Jones' big screen directorial debut picked up awards in the best actor category for aforementioned star and director, and best screenplay for Guillermo Arriaga (previous credits include Amores Perros and 21 Grams) at the Cannes Film Festival. Along with the plaudits, all more than richly deserved.
Dark and disturbing, yet poetic, touching and emotional, this modern Western is more about morality, redemption and loyalty than just a mere revenge tale.
After the body of Melquiades Estrada (Julio Cesar Cedillo) is found partly buried and chewed by coyotes in the Texas desert, having been accidentally shot dead by trigger-happy new Border Patrol guard Mike Norton (Barry Pepper), it is given a pauper's funeral with the authorities showing no great desire to investigate. Well, he was an illegal immigrant after all.
Not good enough for Pete Perkins (Tommy Lee Jones), grizzled and grouchy ranch foreman and Melquiades' best friend, who takes it upon himself to track down the murderer and keep his pledge to make sure Estrada is laid to rest in his home village of Jimenez in Mexico.
Loyalty aside, Perkins also exacts retribution of sorts by kidnapping Norton, forcing him to dig up the corpse from its second grave, and dragging him along on his trek through deserts, plains and mountains.
It's a cruel yet engaging relation-ship between Perkins and Norton that develops over the second half of the film, with the determined and steely cowboy showing unexpected tenderness and devotion to his late friend while his prisoner is forced to confront his own frail mortality and beg for redemption and forgiveness.
The first half of the film is told in flashbacks that appear to bear little relationship to each other but eventually evolve into a richly woven tale of disparate characters looking for a sense of meaning and belonging, while the second half is the physical and spiritual journey of the two leads which eventually reaches destinations that neither probably envisaged at the start of their odyssey.
Beautifully told and filmed, excellent script, exceptional performances from Messrs Jones and Pepper. Mr Jones will have to go some to better this the next time he's behind the camera.
Extras include making of, inter-views and deleted scenes.