I was excited when I saw the cast of “The Burial”, even before I saw the trailers. With Jamie Foxx and Tommy Lee Jones, I held high hopes for the performances in this film. With a story that was inspired by true events, I thought the story sounded intriguing. After watching the film, I found the film is all about legacy, especially in the concept of the film. But it was also powerful, had impactful performances and a strong message of justice.
“The Burial” is a legal drama directed by Maggie Betts and written by Betts and Doug Wright. Loosely based on the true story of a lawyer Willie E. Gary (Jamie Foxx) and his client Jeremiah O’Keefe’s (Tommy Lee Jones) lawsuit against the Loewen funeral company as documented in the 1999 New Yorker article of the same name by Jonathan Harr. In the film, Jeremiah O’Keefe wants to leave a legacy for his family after working hard to build his funeral home business after taking over from his own father. But he finds himself in financial difficulties and makes a deal with Loewen to buy three of his homes. But Loewen stalls and never closes the deal. His lawyer, Mike Allred (Alan Ruck) believes he can handle the case but the junior counsel Hal Dockins (Mamoudou Athie) knows the case is set in a primarily black community and suggests Jeremiah hire Willie, a personal injury lawyer. But the battle with Loewen is only beginning as they hire a team of lawyers headed by Mame Downs (Jurnee Smollett). Willie E. Gary is dynamic and has a strong team including his wife Gloria (Amanda Warren) and his partner Reggie Douglas (Dorian Missick). But will his team be enough to win the case?
The power of this film is in the legal machinations between Willie E. Gary and Mame Downs. Both are incredibly skilled lawyers, at least as presented in this film. Mame Downs graduated top of her class from Harward while Willie E. Gary was a self made man who has won all of his cases. But the case is not easy as there is little proof that Loewen did anything wrong to Jeremiah or anyone else. This is very much a little guy up against a powerful giant. Which means audiences will be inclined to root for Jeremiah O’Keefe. But that is where the film is brilliant as they don’t try to make Jeremiah O’Keefe seem perfect. They remember that he was human and flawed. The writing shows that he made mistakes in handling his money. But it also shows us just what Loewen is capable of in their pursuit of money over people. And that is the strength of the writing.
While the film does the smart thing and illustrates that his legacy is why Jeremiah is concerned, it also focuses on the friendship that develops between him and Willie E. Gary. Willie starts out cynical but grows to care about Jeremiah. Keeping the focus on Willie allows the film to be dynamic, powerful, full of action and humor. The writing keeps the scenes warm and full of humor, not only on the part of Jeremiah singing along with gospel but also as Willie E. Gary lets loose with a quip about his wife coaching him on an apology. These moments of warmth and laughter brighten the film up and make it so much more emotional.
The story shines so much due to the performances by Jamie Foxx and Tommy Lee Jones. They are both dynamic and full of charisma. Jamie Foxx lights up every scene he’s in and his ability to balance humor and drama is the highlight of the film. Tommy Lee Jones seems dour at points but this is counterbalanced by his moments of warmth and joy. Both actors are fantastic. But they aren’t the only ones. Mamoudou Athie is superb as Hal Dockins who performs his character with detail and gravitas. He is compelling in the role. Jurnee Smollett is phenomenal as Mame Downs, playing her character with wit and sharp intelligence. Her charisma stands up to Jamie Foxx as they fight in the courtroom. The supporting cast, Alan Ruck, Amanda Warren and Dorian Missick also perform supremely well. I especially love the chemistry between Amanda Warren and Jamie Foxx.
If there is anything to nitpick about, it is that the first third of the film is slow and I had a harder time connecting to the message of the film. But if you allow the story to play out, they bring you to the heart of the film and it takes off, especially as we learn details about the Loewen company and their practices among poor communities. The film focuses on Jeremiah’s legacy but it is also about what kind of person you want to be and what you want to leave behind, a powerful message of justice versus greed.
If you like legal dramas, this film is emotional and compelling, especially with the performances of Jamie Foxx and Tommy Lee Jones, two powerhouses of skill and charisma. Adding in a phenomenal cast to support them and a script that is balances humor with the drama, audiences will find this film incredibly entertaining with a powerful message that is all about legacy.
Rating: 4.5 arguments out of 5.