Director and co-writer Maggie Betts’ film, The Burial, is an inspirational courtroom drama with some humorous moments most likely never seen in an episode of “Perry Mason” on television or the film To Kill a Mockingbird. Betts (The Novitiate, 2017) and award-winning playwright Doug Wright co-wrote the adapted screenplay from Jonathan Harr’s article “The Burial,” published in 1999 by The New Yorker. The script is loosely based on a true story about a Biloxi funeral homeowner, Jeremiah O’Keefe (Tommy Lee Jones), who owns various funeral homes and a burial insurance business. At 75 years of age, he wants to leave it to his many children and grandchildren, sharing this with his wife (Pamela Reed). He finds to leave it in good status and must make business decisions. He consults his three decades-long-time friend and attorney Mike Allred (Alan Ruck). They go to Vancouver, BC, to meet CEO Ray Loewen (Bill Camp) about selling three funeral homes. Although a handshake and signature on a contract to sell was made on Lowen’s yacht to be finalized quickly, the action was not taken by Loewen/his corporation. Thus, a contract dispute begins.
This story may sound boring to some or just a bunch of legal jargon thrown at each other in a courtroom, but it is anything but that. Anyone about AARP age or who has experienced burying a loved one learns approximately what funeral costs are. Individuals who do not have burial insurance or savings in place may struggle to pay. The audience knows that the Canadian billionaire is getting ready to take over the “death” business in the United States. Why? He saw the potential earnings from the “baby boomers” aging and dying. Small towns and rural areas are ripe. Cha-ching.
A young, new attorney and family friend of Jeremiah, Hal (Mamoudou Athie), suspects Loewen and company are not on the level in business dealings. Hal thinks it best to move on to sue Loewen, then convinces Jeremiah to do so in Hinds County, which has a predominantly Black population. With the information Hal has, he also recommends meeting with a Floridian personal injury lawyer, Willie E. Gary (Jamie Foxx), who has a reputation for not losing cases and winning large sums for his clients.
Every time Foxx is on the screen portraying the wealthy and well-dressed lawyer, the audience is entertained by his portrayal of someone who is very confident of his ability to win – and big. He takes his time to be convinced to accept a case outside of personal injury. He learns of the earning potential from going up against a multi-billion-dollar corporation. As he proceeds, he must know a thing or two but is determined to help the mild-mannered Jeremiah, who becomes his friend. Foxx gives an outstanding performance of the character who learns to use the law to correct some wrongdoing. He may be wealthy, but he does not forget where his life began or his mama. Willie’s wife and childhood sweetheart, Gloria (Amanda Warren), has a small but effective role as his life partner.
Mame Downes (Jurnee Smollett, “Lovecraft Country”) is a distinguished attorney Loewen hires to represent him. She and her team perform great in the courtroom as they cross-examine the people who take the stand. This character may be fictional in the film, but adding a sharp and talented female lawyer to the story is a good choice. This is a feel-good and must-watch film.
Overall, the supporting cast portrays their characters more than effectively, leaving the audience rooting for the small businessman. The scene where the parties negotiate is magnificent, as well as the final courtroom scenes. Some audience members may want to cheer at specific points and then watch the film again.
126-minute runtime, and it is rated R.
The Burial premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. It will be released in a limited release/select theaters on October 6, 2023. It will be streaming via Prime Video on October 13, 2023.
Source: Amazon Studios MGM/Amazon Studios