June 20, 2006 [Nacho Libre, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada]

 Both Tommy Lee Jones' The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada and Jared Hess' Nacho Libre indulge in the outre--and to similar ends, and by similar means.  Both movies are put together like a campfire reminiscence: sudden shifts in event and tone as one thing reminds you of another, and you linger and follow that trail--until another turn takes you straight into scrub and open spaces--before bringing you back to that one thing, that one person you cannot forget, who sits at the center, like Marlow in Heart of Darkness on the deck of the ship at the start, waiting to tell his own tale.  Of course, Jones' story is measured out with some weight, while Nacho Libre has the narrative drive of a Daffy Duck cartoon, all chasing and mugging and yelling and falling.

What a tale Jones tells, though, aided by Barry Pepper as the bull-moose knucklehead who shoots the titular thrice-buried Melquiades--who in turn forms the grisly third in their death-march. The movie is Texas-true: It begins as a puzzle and ends as a requiem, its editing laconic and terse, the visual equivalent of Jones'--or Gary Cooper's--voice.  And Jones' face as always makes him look like a weirdly bent straight arrow--and Barry Pepper is the perfect snake-bit greenhorn, his pall-bearing duties bringing him self-awareness and maybe the first real tears of his life.
Meanwhile, also in Mexico--but one soaked in the spin-art colors of a fireworks fiesta--Nacho Libre tells its own story of redemption and resolve.  But you have to look real hard to see it, way past Jack Black's husky outrages and Hess' deep affection for deadpan catastrophes.  We went for Marie's birthday, all of us in a row laughing--the only ones, filled with contrary delight as Jack Black insists he "knows a butt-load of crap about the Gospel" and more than ready to accept his José Jimenez accent and lucha libre aspirations.  And of course his partner Esqueleto, the one who believes only in "sigh-yence" and sneers, "I hate all the orphans in the world," but who musters enough faith to fling both of them across something that was a movie only in the technical sense--and in some other sense as well, some paranormal apprehension of a cockeyed inner life that happens just as you fall asleep--the vertiginous moment when you lurch as though you were falling and spring awake again, your stretchy pants straining to contain the energy needed to wrestle terminal foolishness for love, orphans, God, and a solid three-count.  I have no idea what Jones would think of this movie--oh, no more lying: I know exactly what he'd think--but the thing about going to a movie is that the other ones you've seen tend to talk during the feature, and no usher in the world can eject them from the theater.


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