February 3, 2006


In his latest film, Jones is just where he likes to be: in control (Sam Allis, February 2, 2006, Boston Globe)

Flannery O'Connor matters to this movie first because [Tommy Lee] Jones wrote his cum laude thesis at Harvard on her. Second, family members of the film's coproducer, Michael Fitzgerald, are executors of O'Connor's literary estate. ''So we both knew our O'Connor rather well, and it was just a natural approach for me."

''O'Connor is important to the way this movie is constructed," he continues. ''What you do is you consider some so-called religious thinking without the didacticism of the classical approach. You look for the allegorical intentions of what we're taught in the Bible, and then find some way to have it revealed or expressed by common experience. You'll find this happening over and over again in O'Connor, who was a rather classical Catholic thinker who wrote about nothing but backwoods north Georgia rednecks."

''Ecclesiastes is essential to the movie as well," he says. ''It has to do with the passage of time. You want to start thinking as an actor that the past, the present, and the future are occurring simultaneously, and God requires an accounting of all three."

Jones, 59, has feasted off his colliding parts for years. He was raised hard in mean circumstances and now calls polo ''a family sport." (He looks at his watch at one point and says of his third wife, ''She's playing right now.") He's the literary cowboy who talks about roping and allegory yet is totally at home at Cannes, where he won best actor last year for his role in his own movie as ranch hand Pete Perkins.

''Three Burials" is a spare effort, allegorical for those who choose to take it that way, built around a journey from Texas to Mexico by Jones's character to bury his friend Melquiades Estrada after he was killed north of the border.

He craves the creative control offered a director and keeps an eye on his actors. ''Well, you don't let anyone go," he says. ''All actors make mistakes from time to time. You just watch out for that. The important thing is to find good actors and not ask them to do anything they cannot do."

Picking them is all gut. Take Melissa Leo. ''I took her straight to the cafe that ultimately became the set and had lunch," Jones says. ''We ate some really greasy fried eggs, watched people sit around and smoke cigarettes, listened to the radio coming out of the kitchen. It was easy to tell if she'd be comfortable and creative in an environment like that. She was excited." Done deal.

''He challenges you to think, and that can be intimidating and scary," says Pepper. And he can bite. ''He said to one of the wranglers when one horse screwed up, 'You call them horses? I'll give you 50 cents a pound for them to feed my dog.' "

''Three Burials" was hatched by Jones and his good friend and hunting buddy, the Mexican screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga, who copped best screenplay at Cannes for his work here and also penned the critically acclaimed ''21 Grams" and ''Amores Perros."

''We just decided one day to do a movie," Jones says. ''We figured out ideas we had in common and came up with a study in the social contrasts along the border. It took about a year to put the screenplay together. We talked about themes and decided on a narrative structure of a journey."

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 3, 2006 10:39 AM
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