Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Barry Pepper, Dwight Yoakam, January Jones Director: Tommy Lee Jones The film: The video release of Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada couldn't be more timely. As thousands of National Guardsmen ready themselves to be sent to the US-Mexico border - one of the main measures announced in George W Bush's televised address on May 15 that was largely seen as a manifesto playing to the xenophobic sentiments of his disaffected conservative base - Tommy Lee Jones' directorial debut hits hard at well-entrenched racism along America's southern frontiers. What's delightful about Three Burials is how much it differs from Crash - this year's Oscar winner for best picture - in the way it deals with the fallout of racial bigotry. It's apparent where Jones' sympathies lie from the start, as Three Burials opens with two bored border patrolmen shooting at a coyote. 'That's a dead son of a bitch,' one of them says as he downs the animal. It's a phrase that's repeated by his colleagues throughout the opening reels of the film, as they round up illegal immigrants crossing over from the south. Amid such hostilities Melquiades Estrada (Julio Cesar Cedillo) is shot dead by Mike Norton (Barry Pepper) a chauvinist officer recently deployed from Cincinnati. Ranch hand Pete Perkins (Jones, far right with Pepper) is infuriated - not least by the way the police refuse to probe the death or even give the man a respectful burial. So, he kidnaps Norton, makes him dig up the body, and forces him on a horseback trek to return the remains to Estrada's birthplace in Mexico. Jones' vision of the US is one of gloom: a land where infidelity reigns, where sleazy property agents hawking mobile residences talk about resale values, and a billboard proclaims that liberty 'means freedom from high interest rates'. Laden with cultural and biblical symbolism, Three Burials represents a journey towards redemption for the protagonists: homecoming for the deceased Estrada, closure for the humanist in Perkins, and a journey back to compassion for Norton. Besides the dramatic visual imagery - which compares well to, say, Brokeback Mountain - what makes Jones' directorial debut a gem is the subtlety. Although Perkins' frustration is well-placed, Norton is also far from a caricatured redneck. Paranoid and brutal on the outside, his feelings of impotence (as the film slowly reveals) are what leads him to extremes, as he channels emotions he can't articulate into violence. Rather than revealing the banality of evil, Three Burials illustrates how racism damages the perpetrators as well as the victims. The extras: A full-length commentary by Jones, Dwight Yoakam (who plays Belmont the sheriff) and January Jones (who plays Norton's mall-loving, television aficionado wife) provides an interesting insight into how the film was made. The verdict: A visual and lyrical success.