Tommy Lee Jones did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Pete Perkins in The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada.
Tommy Lee Jones portrays Pete Perkins a rancher near the Mexican rancer who is friends with Melquiades. Robert Downey Jr. was a perfect choice for his role in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang as the quick talking manic man, well Tommy Lee Jones is also perfectly cast here as a world weary crusty rancher type. Jones simply fits this role like a glove. There is never a question to Jones as the man, he just fits the part so well, that he already has already a leg up on the part. He does not even need to convince us that he is this man, he simply is the man from the first second to the last second.
The film jumps around in time early on the film so it really is best to focus on this performance in chronological order. Tommy Lee Jones in his scenes that show his friendship with Melquiades handles the part perfectly. He portrays Pete's friendship with Melquiades as something quite natural. He has the right sort of warmth and camaraderie in these scenes, but he does not draw too much attention. He portrays Pete as a bit playful with his friend, and they just portray the proper happiness in their scenes together. He does not overdo it ever, creating just a believable friendship between the two.
After Melquiades is killed though Jones changes Pete's manner severely as he seems as a far more of a haunted individual, who seems to have lost his best friend. Jones is effective as he conveys the fact that the happiness has really been sucked right out of Pete as he stays troubled by the death of his friend. Jones is quite moving in how quietly he portrays the grief in Pete over his death. He is particularly powerful in the scene where he asks the local authorities why they buried his friend without even telling him. Jones in this moment shows just how much the friendship meant to Pete, and how heartbroken he has become after his friend's sudden death.
Pete suddenly learns the truth of who killed his friend though and goes on a strange quest to properly bury his friend on horse all the while keeping the officer as a hostage. Jones is brilliant in realizing the incredible drive that pushes Pete forward on his peculiar journey. Jones has a such a conviction in the part that as he moves on the journey we entirely believe character's actions, even when we do not entirely understand where he will go with the man. Jones combines the passionate devotion of his character, with a very real threatening element as well. He keeps Pete;s actions a mystery well, but he never limits out abilities to empathize with his plight either.
Tommy Lee Jones here does so much with the smallest of expressions. Pete really is a man of very few words throughout the film, but Jones always is able to bring to life just how important this expedition is as well as how meaningful it is to Pete. In very subtle moments Jones portrays a deep seeded loneliness that seems to prevail within Pete over the death of his friend. Although in the big emotional scenes Jones really does stay reserved he never fails to deliver on the power and the poignancy of them.
Directing one's self to a performance certainly can be a tricky thing to do, it works if an actor knows their limits and boundaries, but not so much if they don't. Jones most certainly knows everything about his screen presence as he utilizes it so well. He never turns Pete into some sort of one dimensional angle of vengeance of anyway. Jones is always very effective as he creates the internal struggle within Pete over his decisions, but as well his heartbreak involving his friend. Jones succeeds in bringing this unique character to life with likable, sometimes even humorous naturally intertwined with the powerful core of what pushes his character forward.