The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada is a labour of love by stage and screen actor Tommy Lee Jones in his directorial debut. He plays the part of a ranch foreman in Texas who leads an investigation into the murder of his friend Melquiades Estrada whose body had been discovered buried in the desert. He finds and kidnaps the killer and, having unearthed his friend's body from its second burial place in a local cemetery, sets off for Mexico to fulfil a promise to bury his friend (for the third time) in his home town in Mexico. The odd journey (with the ranch foreman, the murderer and the body carried on a mule) proves dangerous and becomes a lesson in humanity for the killer. Composer Marco Beltrami served an apprenticeship with Italian maestro Ennio Morricone, and had previously displayed Morricone influences in the Wes Craven horror flick "Scream". Given the setting of "The Three Burials" it was natural to seek a Western sound to the music but, rather than copy the style used by Morricone in his Sergio Leone films, Jones and Beltrami have sought a more subtle approach. The resulting soundtrack has its own unique voice which easily suggests its location and the dry dusty landscape, but with a more modern understanding of character motivation and development. Given its contemporary setting, Jones also included a number of country songs which might be heard in this part of the continent but also comment on the characters and story.
The main theme itself is perhaps closest to the Morricone feel, and the way it suggests the odd group setting out on a mule-paced journey brings to mind Morricone's humorous theme for "Two Mules for Sister Sara". The rhythmic percussion accompanying many of the tracks has some unusual sounds, and the accompanying video (in the form of an mpeg file on the CD) explains how Beltrami recorded and adapted the sound of plucked cactus needles to give this natural earthy touch to the soundtrack. The second track is a contrasting lyrical one, described on the video as the "friendship theme" and speaks of the peace and contentment established by a strong bond of friendship over a sustained period. These two themes and the sounds comprising them seem to generate the whole soundtrack in a variety of inventive ways. The instrumentation is largely confined to guitar, accordian, strings and a variety of percussion, and a mandolin-like plucked tremolo is also a recurring feature. There are some electronic sounds as well as the acoustic ones (both natural and instrumental), and they are all melded together in a very natural way. The songs are spread evenly across the CD and their accompaniment of guitars and percussion also seems to blend well into the overall soundtrack.
The soundtrack is highly recommended, and the film won both best actor (Tommy Lee Jones) and best screenplay (Guillermo Arriaga) awards at the Cannes Film Festival in 2005.
This soundtrack CD by Marco Beltrami is thoroughly recommended and can be found at Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com. The full track listing is given below. Unless otherwise stated the tracks are by Marco Beltrami. On this dual format disk there is also a Bonus Video in the form of an mpeg file which is an exclusive interview with Tommy Lee Jones and Marco Beltrami.