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  • Writer's picturePopEntertainment

The Burial (A Movie Review)

Updated: Oct 23, 2023


Starring Jamie Foxx, Tommy Lee Jones, Jurnee Smollett, Alan Ruck, Mamoudou Athie, Pamela Reed, Bill Camp, Dorian Missick, Amanda Warren, Jim Klock, Billy Slaughter, Lance E. Nichols, Tywayne Wheatt, Keith Jefferson, B.J. Clinkscales, Doug Spearman, Gralen Bryant Banks, Olivia Brody, Dave Maldonado, Billy Slaughter and Christopher Winchester.

Screenplay by Doug Wright and Maggie Betts.

Directed by Maggie Betts.

Distributed by Amazon Studios. 126 minutes. Rated R.

You never know what kind of story will work on film. For example, you may not expect to really get drawn into a movie that essentially revolves around funeral homes and contract law in the 1990s. Yet, The Burial turns out to be a pretty terrific feel-good Davey vs. Goliath legal drama.

And it has the added benefit of being mostly true.

It is based on the 1995 court case of Jeremiah O’Keefe (Tommy Lee Jones) vs. the Loewen Funeral Group.

O’Keefe is the head of his over-hundred-year-old family business, a group of three funeral O'Keefe Funeral Homes. (He was also a decorated soldier and the former mayor of Biloxi, MS.) Hitting some hard times in business, he made some questionable choices and quickly found the business hemorrhaging money. In desperation, he had his lawyer Mike Allred (Alan Ruck) reach out to the Loewen conglomerate to potentially buy the business.

What they didn’t know was that Loewen was systematically swallowing up many (if not most of) the independent funeral homes. And by the time that O’Keefe realized that he was being ripped off, he had to sue the huge conglomerate to keep his own family business.

O’Keefe is not a perfect man, nor a businessman, and to be honest some… if not many… of his problems were of his own making. However, he is a prideful, principled man who is determined to be able to pass down the business to the next generations. (And he had 13 children and over 70 grandchildren and great-grandchildren!)

He was also not afraid to color outside of the lines. On the suggestion of legal clerk and friend Hal Dockins (Mamoudou Athie), O’Keefe decides to take a chance and hire flashy celebrity lawyer (and reverend!) Willie E. Gary (Jamie Foxx). The guy has fire, has flare. The only problem is that he’s a personal injury lawyer. He’s never handled contract law.

This odd couple gets together to expose Loewen’s corruption, which revolves around race, class, and exploitation.

Recognizing that the other side is going to make this case at least somewhat a referendum on the corporation’s racial and class qualities – and having deep, deep pockets – they hire a dream team of Black attorneys to handle their side.

Thus starts a fascinating legal procedural featuring some fascinating characters. There is some fine acting here, but it is Foxx and Jones’ film, and it rides on their fine work. (This is probably Foxx’ best film work in years.)

None of The Burial is overly surprising, but it is surprisingly satisfying to see the little man take on the huge corporation. Occasionally the film plays things a bit too broadly – I find it hard to believe that Ray Loewen was really as cartoonishly evil as portrayed here by Bill Camp – but way more often than not the film connects.

So, don’t just write off The Burial when you read it is about a legal case between funeral homes. There is so much more to it than that.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2023 All rights reserved. Posted: October 13, 2023.


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