Tommy Lee Jones has carved out a niche as the go-to man for grizzled gravitas, channeling a good ol' boy version of Gregory Peck. Few film-goers would have guessed that he was also harboring an inner Sam Peckinpah, however, and damned if this extraordinary Western elegy doesn't prove that he's the heir apparent to the revisionist horse-opera poet. Like Bloody Sam's Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, the actor-turned-director's saga of gunpoint-redemption centers on a body movin' south of the border. But the lyrical sorrow and lived-in beauty that haunt this death trip belong solely to Mr. Jones.
Thanks to screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga's chronologically cut-up first act, it takes a while to suss out how a stoic Texas rancher (Jones), the Mexican worker (Cedillo) he befriends and a border patrolman (Pepper) fresh from Ohio form the film's trinity. Then the dots get connected: The law officer was trigger-happy, the immigrant lies dead and the rancher becomes an avenging angel. Once the cowboy, the criminal he's kidnapped and the corpse leave the Lone Star landscape behind, the film goes about its funereal business with single-minded purpose, with Pepper suffering for every sin of Northern aggression since Gettysburg. Journeying from frontier justice to forgiveness, Jones's moving eulogy is as monumental as its scope; taking the genre for another ride into the sunset, his postmortem to masculine honor couldn't be more perfect.—David Fear
(Opens Wed 14; see Now playing for venues.)