Sam Peckinpah Lives! The Rampaging spirit of the late filmmaker, known as Bloody Sam for films such as The Wild Bunch and Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, is all over this blistering modern Western from first-time director Tommy Lee Jones. It took Jones a while - he's pushing sixty - to get behind the camera, but he fills every frame of his debut with the ferocity and feeling of his best screen performances. Add his role as Texas ranch foreman Pete Perkins to that gallery. Jones took the best-actor prize at Cannes, and Guillermo Arriaga (Amores Perros, 21 Grams) won for his potent and provocative script. Arriaga builds a simple plot -Pete is determined to bring the body of his murdered friend Melquiades Estrada (Julio Cesar Cedillo) to his Mexican home for burial - into a scathing attack on inhumanity as timely as Abu Ghraib. Pete drags along Mike Norton (a superb Barry Pepper), the border-patrol cop who shot Melquiades, and forces him to care for the rotting corpse. Encompassing characters that include Mike's hottie wife (January Jones), a married waitress (Melissa Leo) who's been shacking up with Pete, and a sheriff (Dwight Yoakam) who thinks the rights of a Mexican illegal aren't worth a piss, the film slaps you hard with its brutality and gallows humor and then locates compassion in the unlikeliest of places. Jones shakes you in ways you do not see coming. His movie is a powder keg.
From The Archives Issue 989: December 15, 2005