September 27, 2023



Review of ‘The Burial’: Jamie Foxx and Tommy Lee Jones Shine in a Nostalgic Courtroom Drama

Review of ‘The Burial’: Jamie Foxx and Tommy Lee Jones Shine in a Nostalgic Courtroom Drama

In Maggie Betts’ film, the leading roles are played by Jamie Foxx and Tommy Lee Jones, depicting a story where a man confronts a powerful corporate magnate to protect his family’s funeral home.

“The Burial” narrates the tale of Jerry O’Keefe (Tommy Lee Jones), a funeral home proprietor and former politician, who finds himself pitted against the Loewen Group. This legal battle is led by the charismatic personal injury attorney, Willie E. Gary (Jamie Foxx). Based on a true event from Hinds County, Mississippi, in 1995, the film marks Maggie Betts’ second narrative feature and boasts a screenplay by Doug Wright and Jonathan Harr.

Jerry O’Keefe, a father of 13 children with 22 grandchildren, is burdened by a substantial hidden debt, concealed even from his wife (Pamela Reed). Given his age, his primary concern is securing his legacy to ensure the well-being of his extensive family once he’s no longer around. Despite owning several funeral homes, financial pressure compels him to contemplate selling. His attorney and close friend, Mike Allred (Alan Ruck), facilitates a meeting with Raymond Loewen (Bill Camp), the billionaire proprietor of the Loewen Group, who aims to expand his highly successful death and burial insurance enterprise. They draft a contract, and while O’Keefe signs it, Loewen hesitates.

When O’Keefe becomes aware of Loewen’s lack of intent to finalize the deal, he enlists the assistance of a young attorney named Hal Dockins (Mamoudou Athie) to aid him in taking the billionaire to court. As they realize the likelihood of facing a Black judge and a predominantly Black jury, Dockins introduces O’Keefe to Willie E. Gary, a wealthy attorney with an impressive 12-year track record of courtroom victories, complete with a private plane. Gary, hailing from a large, economically disadvantaged Southern family, swiftly forms a deep connection with O’Keefe, becoming Gary’s very first white client.

The case swiftly evolves beyond the funeral industry, delving into themes of class inequality and the exorbitant costs associated with burying loved ones. While Gary is affluent and O’Keefe is more financially comfortable than many in his hometown, Loewen stands as a billionaire with greater power and resources than both of them combined. This shared experience strengthens their solidarity, intensifying their determination to bring Loewen to justice and expose his questionable business practices.

Race plays a prominent role in “The Burial,” drawing numerous parallels to the O.J. Simpson trial and particularly the defense strategies of Johnnie Cochran, whom Gary admires. However, on a broader level, the film keenly acknowledges not only race but also how it can be perceived within the courtroom. Given that the story unfolds primarily in the South, every character on screen is acutely attuned to the presence or absence of prejudice in their lives.

In a departure from her first narrative venture, “Novitiate” in 2017, Betts ventures into comedy with a heartwarming tone that captures the spirit of 90s-era courtroom dramas, complete with vibrant personalities, impassioned monologues, and satisfying, crowd-pleasing humor. Virtually every member of the ensemble cast takes a turn at eliciting laughter, and their success rate is notably high. And just when the film begins to lose momentum, it receives a jolt of vitality with the introduction of Loewen’s lead attorney, Mame Downes (Jurnee Smollett), who confidently faces off against Gary in the courtroom.

“The Burial” marks a return to form for Foxx, offering him a substantial and playful role he hasn’t had in quite some time. In his portrayal of Gary, the star channels his stand-up comedy roots, ad-libbing in stylish attire and referring to himself in the third person. Amanda Warren, in her role as Gary’s wife Gloria, brilliantly matches Foxx’s comedic energy. Together, they steal the spotlight, depicting the real-life couple with great humor and warmth.

Smollett shines as the poised and intelligent Downes, a woman exuding an air of self-assuredness in both her demeanor and speech, knowing she’s the sharpest mind in the room. Despite her somewhat anachronistic, form-fitting outfits and modernly chic hairstyle, her line delivery seamlessly fits the film’s time period, and her chemistry with Foxx is palpable. Smollett has displayed her comedic talents since her days as a child star, and it’s refreshing to see her tap into that energy once again.

In a way, “The Burial” feels like a triumphant return for Jones, who has spent the past three decades portraying gruff yet principled elderly characters deeply caring for those around them. His on-screen rapport with Foxx resembles a more tender version of his dynamic with Will Smith in the “Men in Black” films. Foxx gets to be exuberant and lively, while Jones responds with concise, folksy lines that underscore the wisdom accumulated over his long life. However, there’s a notable distinction in this Jones performance: he portrays an optimist. O’Keefe is a man who believes in and desires to invest in a brighter future.

“The Burial” is fundamentally centered on optimism, as the film earnestly places its faith in the legal system’s capacity to combat injustice. Beyond that, it presents the idea that even the affluent can be made answerable for their conduct. In an era marked by widespread strikes and billionaires withholding their wealth to the detriment of society, it’s refreshing to witness a narrative where a highly influential individual is compelled to confront his own avarice and lack of compassion.

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Ralph Calaway