The Burial (2023) is a captivating American film that seamlessly combines elements of comedy and legal drama, bringing to life a remarkable true story. The movie is helmed by director Maggie Betts and features a screenplay co-written by Betts and Doug Wright. Loosely inspired by the legal battle of attorney Willie E. Gary and his client Jeremiah Joseph O’Keefe against the Loewen funeral company, as chronicled in the 1999 New Yorker article penned by Jonathan Harr. The Burial features Jamie Foxx in the role of Gary, Tommy Lee Jones as O’Keefe, alongside the talented Jurnee Smollett, Mamoudou Athie, and Bill Camp.
“The Burial” had its world premiere at the prestigious Toronto International Film Festival on September 11, 2023, and was subsequently released by Amazon MGM Studios in a limited theatrical run on October 6, 2023, before becoming available for streaming on Prime Video on October 13, 2023.
From IMDB, 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 ensue as the unlikely pair bond while exposing corporate corruption and racial injustice in this inspirational, triumphant story.
THE BURIAL (2023) FILM REVIEW.
Entering this movie, my expectations were uncertain, and I must admit, I had an amusingly misguided notion that it might be a horror film (don’t ask me why, lol). Perhaps it was the title or the prevalence of horror movies during that time that led to my fanciful conjecture. However, the film quickly dispelled my initial misgivings and turned out to be a delightful surprise, which I’ll explain shortly.
The story revolves around Mr. O’Keefe, who had just celebrated his 75th birthday and found himself in a courtroom. There, a sophisticated and prosperous lawyer named Willie was passionately addressing a case. Willie’s eloquent speech captivated Mr. O’Keefe’s attention, prompting him to stay behind with his junior counsel, Halbert Dockins, after the court session to discuss his own legal matter.
The conversation took an unexpected turn when Mr. Halbert and Jeremiah O’Keefe revealed that their case wasn’t merely a Personal Injury matter; it was, in fact, a contract law case. Willie, portrayed by the talented Jamie Foxx, is a prominent lawyer in a predominantly black community, boasting an impressive streak of 12 years of consecutive wins. His performance in the film was nothing short of fantastic.
Notably, Tommy Lee Jones, who portrayed Jeremiah, delivered an exceptional performance. Their on-screen chemistry was truly remarkable, making it one of the best performances I’ve witnessed from both actors to date. While Willie’s character underwent significant development, this did not overshadow Tommy’s portrayal. He exuded a quiet determination, clearly reflecting his desire to win the case for the sake of his wife and children.
Hal tells Willie about the story, unfolding the intriguing narrative of Mr. Jeremiah, a funeral home director who owns a network of around eight funeral homes, all for inheritance by his 13 children. However, a twist in the story emerges when financial troubles plague Mr. Jeremiah, leading him to seek assistance from the Lowren Group. Instead of promptly sealing the deal, Mr. Lowren adopts a delaying strategy, allegedly to push Mr. O’Keefe into bankruptcy. This alarming development compels Mr. Jeremiah to take legal action against the Lowren Group, with hopes of securing Willie as his lead counsel.
Upon hearing this saga, Willie, in a surprising turn of events, decides to drop the case in favor of more pressing matters. While Mr. Jeremiah places great faith in Willie, his hopes are left hanging as Willie chooses to decline. Out of compassion for Jeremiah’s plight, Mr. Hal intervenes and introduces a startling revelation about Lowren’s prominent position in one of the nation’s largest industries. Mr. Hal baits Willie with wealth and ambition, suggesting that victory in this case could propel him to national recognition, akin to Thurgood Marshall or Johnny Cochran.
Despite anticipating the inevitable outcome of this film, I remained engaged, eagerly awaiting confirmation of my predictions. The narrative never drags or tempts one to stray toward other distractions, a contrast to the common pitfalls of many films. There is an abundance of substance here, ensuring one’s attention remains steadfast throughout.
The first half is particularly riveting, offering a glimpse into the budding relationship between Tommy Lee Jones, a cash-strapped funeral home director, and Jamie Foxx, a renowned lawyer. Together, they plot their course to sue one of the wealthiest corporate giants in the country.
The second half of the story unfolds as Willie makes the pivotal decision to take on the case. This particular segment, though, appeared somewhat reserved but it was tense, vigorous, and exciting and it primarily revolved around courtroom proceedings.
The battle against the formidable opposing legal team, boasting a brilliant lawyer who graduated at the top of her class from Harvard Law School, clerked for a Supreme Court Justice, and is now the youngest partner at Cranston, Brown, and Atwell, intensifies at this point. It’s during this phase that the supporting characters, Hal, Mame Downes, and Lowren, come into play. Their performances were good but left a bit to be desired. It’s not that they were terrible; rather, they lacked the charisma necessary to elevate this movie into a truly intense drama.
Now, the stage is set for a fierce legal battle, with both superstar lawyers pulling out all the stops to defend their clients. It’s at this juncture that we delve into a thought-provoking movie that delves into themes of greed, race, loss, redemption, and the intricate dynamics of human relationships.
“The Burial” is a comedic enthralling legal drama film that immerses viewers in the intense courtroom battle of an actual 1995 court case. While drawing inspiration from real events, this movie weaves in dramatic and fictional elements to craft its narrative.
With a creative approach that enriches its entertainment value, the film takes audiences on a rollercoaster of emotions, unveiling the unwavering pursuit of justice, the intricacies of the legal system, and the personal sacrifices of its characters. A delightful courthouse tale with a touch of civil rights issues embedded within, “The Burial” may not be the pinnacle of its genre, but it certainly leaves a smile on one’s face.
The Burial is rated R for language.
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