Daily Archives: April 6, 2022


This appeared in the Chicago Reader‘s February 3, 2006 issue. Tommy Lee Jones’ subsequent feature, The Homesman, confirms the talent, originality, and boldness of Jones as a director, even if it may also come across at certain junctures as less lucid than its predecessor. — J.R.

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada

**** (Masterpiece)

Directed by Tommy Lee Jones

Written bu Guillermo Arriaga

With Jones, Barry Pepper, Julio Cesar Cedillo, Dwight Yoakam, January Jones, and Melissa Leo

At last year’s Cannes film festival, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada walked off with the prizes for best actor (Tommy Lee Jones) and best screenplay (Guillermo Arriaga). It’s often hard to disentangle story, acting, and direction when they’re working together as well as they are here, but I would have honored Jones for his direction. That prize went to Michael Haneke for Caché, his eighth theatrical feature. This is Jones’s first, though he directed (and cowrote and starred in) a made-for-TV western, the 1995 The Good Old Boys.

Both Haneke’s and Jones’s films are political. The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, a western, protests the abusive treatment of Mexican immigrants in west Texas, and Caché, an anxiety-ridden crime thriller, protests the abusive treatment of Algerians in France. Read more

Frankie & Johnny

From the Chicago Reader (October 1, 1991). — J.R.


Terrence McNally’s two-character play Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune is about an embittered coffee shop waitress, the victim of rape by her father, who reluctantly succumbs to the advances of a much younger short-order cook fresh out of prison. Leave it to producer-director Garry Marshall, who brought us Pretty Woman, to Hollywoodize this grim scenario to the point of incoherence (with a script by McNally himself), casting Michelle Pfeiffer as the waitress and Al Pacino as the (now older) short-order cook, and substituting wife-beating for incestuous rape. To their credit, the filmmakers do a fair job of depicting the workings of a Manhattan coffee shop (despite some unnecessary cruelty involving one of the other waitresses), but not even the usually resourceful leads can overcome the missing or muddled motivations when it comes to the romance. Marshall only makes things worse by socking us with protracted, meaningful close-ups and punchy Marvin Hamlisch music meant to paper over the gaps. With Hector Elizondo (quite effective) and Kate Nelligan (painfully miscast) (1991). (JR) Read more