Inspired by true events, when a handshake deal goes sour, funeral home owner Jeremiah O’Keefe (Academy Award® winner Tommy Lee Jones) enlists charismatic, smooth-talking attorney Willie E. Gary (Academy Award® winner Jamie Foxx) to save his family business. Tempers flare and laughter ensues as the unlikely pair bond while exposing corporate corruption and racial injustice in this inspirational, triumphant story.
When talking about The Burial, a movie about a whole lot of black folks being put six feet under by a greedy white funeral corporation, it’s best to describe it all with the foods that gave them life. The Burial is a buffet serving blue crab boil, soul food, Mississippi barbecue, with enough Comeback Sauce to kick it all up.
The Burial serves up a mildly crabby Tommy Lee Jones as a funeral home owner trying to do his moral best for the rich and poor, with a big helping of Jamie Foxx as a soulful mode Johnnie Cochran. It’s a courtroom drama with heart, passion and some serious social Justice. It’s Mississippi Unburning, the kind of fun, but impassioned productions that Hollywood use to make— and still occasionally does for the streaming channels. The Burial streams on Amazon Prime.
The Burial delights in its 1995 nostalgia. For the observant history buff, the details become small screen Easter Eggs . The based on truth friendship between Jeremiah O’Keefe (Jones) and Willie Gary (Fox) broadens beyond its initial black and white Green Book characterizations to become a template for racial bonding and handling of current social justice issues. It shows how racism can be un-trenched from the American consciousness.
Gary, the son of a share cropper, is a by the boot straps success story. He’s a dedicated and indomitable ambulance chasing lawyer, who solely services the black community. He brings the enthusiasm of the Black Baptist Church to his practice and the courtroom. He believes in God, the law and always taking cases that he can easily win, one’s decided by majority black juries. This combination of huckster flash mixed with faith has made him rich.
O’Keefe, on the other hand, is a good old boy with a moral compass and good social conscious. He’s honest and simply refuses to sanction the usual white supremacist tomfoolery. He’s, however, in financial dire straits and worried that he will have no legacy or inheritance to leave his thirteen children. That has made him an easy prey to a funeral conglomerate who can make a handshake deal and than drag the paperwork out until O’Keefe goes bankrupt, then acquire everything for near nothing. O’Keefe enlist Gary to be his lead lawyer in the suit against the bad corporation.
The courtroom drama that ensues is less compelling for the stakes than the people litigating it. It’s the character that matters. The verdict is well known legal history. The courtroom proceedings may get unbalanced dramatically, but the character conflicts, developments, and resolutions never do.
Jurnee Smollett plays the fictional lead opposition attorney, Mame Downes with poise and a porous grace. She straddles the line between flirtatious charm and bitchiness, doing her job and yet hating the amorality of her client. She’s a strange yet capable foil for Gary. Downes’ character is a bit under drawn, but Smollett knows her strengths and weaknesses as an actress, and how to play to them.
The main comedy of The Burial highlights how racism can play a role in the courtroom. The lopsided pissing contest between Gary and O’Keefe’s long time attorney, Allred (Allan Ruck) for lead counsel is a funny portrayal of black and white blindspots in collision. It just gets comically creepy and cringed when Allred latent racism catches up with him and is exposed.
Gary and O’Keefe’s bond and friendship never seems inauthentic. Their mutual beliefs allows them to function in deep ways. It’s a relationship that is truly color blind. Foxx’s comic energy allows Jones to cut loose. How O’Keefe grows beyond providing to see the injustices that predatory business practices have on the poor black community is one of The Burial moving sub themes.
While the outcome of the trial might seem like a foregone conclusion, the process by which the second half of this movie conflates the way America treats its living with the way it remembers its dead is as poignant as the Jonathan Harr New Yorker Article on which “The Burial” is based.
The Burial gets a 3.5 out of 5. it’s streaming on Amazon Prime.
- Doug Wright
- Maggie Betts
- Amazon MGM Studios
- Double Nickel Entertainment
- Foxxhole Productions
- Bobby Shriver Productions
- September 11, 2023(TIFF)
- October 6, 2023(United States)