The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2005) – thoughts of a UK Script Consultant and Script Doctor

As a UK Script Doctor and UK script consultant I’ve been meaning to write about The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2005) for an age. This is a really great film, wonderfully written and directed, and a film that grows as every year passes.

There are scenes in various old Sam Peckinpah movies where cowboys in the dying old west, stop and watch as a new fangled automobile drives past (probably, the first or second ‘car’ – these cowpokes have ever seen). This film was made in 2005 – but Tommy Lee Jones’ character Pete still seems like one of those Peckinpah cowpokes – grimacing as he sees the modern world has arrived – bringing values which don’t match his own.

So, while this is set in the modern West, the ‘Old West’ is very much alive – it’s code of honour: friendship, loyalty, a man sticking to his word – they’re at the heart of story, and are what Pete is all about.

To a large extent – the modern life hasn’t really brought Pete’s character much of any use, he’s a cowboy still, out on the range, and he values his friends higher than anything else. A man of his word, he wants to honour his dead buddy, and the film goes on a journey, taking some unwilling prisoners into a harsh landscape. Pete finds out that not everyone; even friends, have the same staunch belief in being ‘men of their words…’  But in the end, does that even matter?

There’s a lovely word to describe this film – it’s ‘elegiac’ – an elegy, mournful, beautiful, wistful and very sad.

As a Script Doctor and UK script consultant I sometimes get contacted by very young script writers (I was myself once). Asking for career advice or help with a script report. One of the key bits of advice I give is that most writers – don’t really get any good without a large measure of life experience and often, this only comes with age. Getting older, is a writers friend.

This is an older person’s film (I’m  44 – not 64!) and it has an almost Gatsbyesque feel to it. What’s Pete looking for over there in Mexico? What does he expect to find? A past that never really existed? Or a future that, in the end, is only filled with sense of loss?

Below is a series of quick clips from the film featuring the late great musician Levon Helm who has a small part as an old man the characters meet with on their journey into Mexico.  He has a request for them…

Matthew Cooper has been a script writer for hire for over 20 years. He’s written for most of the UK soaps, including writing award winning episodes of Emmerdale, EastEnders, Hollyoaks and Family Affairs and has been BAFTA shortlisted and Royal Television Society nominated as a script writer. He’s also a leading UK script consultant. You can find some of his broadcast credits on the IMDb. You can get in touch with Matthew on or hire him on Peopleperhour