In The Burial, Jamie Foxx plays Willie Gary, a swashbuckling attorney who hates to lose. “I would rather shoot myself and die than lose a case,” he says. For Gary, litigation is a war, and he believes in an all-out approach inside the courtroom. Director Maggie Betts makes Gary’s tall claims believable by giving the character a solid professional reputation — Gary hasn’t lost a case in 12 years, making him a larger-than-life figure in his field.
Gary’s invincibility gets tested when he takes up a case that’s far from easy for various reasons. Having been a personal injury lawyer all his life, Gary decides to solve a contractual dispute after being sceptical about it early on. He chooses to fight for Jeremiah O Keefe (Tommy Lee Jones in a subdued yet affecting performance), who owns several funeral homes in Mississippi. Facing a financial crisis, he plans to sell three of his funeral homes to Ray Loewen (Bill Camp), CEO of a billion-dollar corporation. Keefe senses something fishy about the deal and decides to sue Loewen. His young attorney (a brilliant Mamoudou Athie) feels it makes sense to pander to the Black jury by hiring a Black lawyer and takes Keefe to Gary.
The Burial (English)
Director: Maggie Betts
Cast: Jamie Foxx, Tommy Lee Jones, Jurnee Smollett, Mamoudou Athie, Bill Camp
Runtime: 125 minutes
Storyline: Inspired by a true story, a lawyer fights for a funeral home owner when his business is under threat from a corporate giant.
The Burial, based on a 1999 New Yorker report from Jonathan Harr, is an engaging courtroom drama featuring Foxx who doesn’t miss a beat in his portrayal of an outlandish attorney. It starts on an entertaining note with Foxx being delightfully over-the-top. With a gifted command over his speech, Gary’s powerful monologues emotionally manipulate people. The treatment of such a vibrant character with a funny tone works.
When it comes to the central conflict, there isn’t anything out of the box about the case at the core of it all. But Betts smartly makes the film more than just a courtroom drama. She first makes us root for Keefe’s underdog spirit. “Old men don’t file lawsuits,” Keefe’s wife tells the octogenarian. Yet, Keefe is determined not to let a billionaire bully him out of his business. He is firm on providing a safe future for his 13 children and leaving a noteworthy legacy.
The Burial, which comes across as a tad too “cinematic” early on, begins to feel real as it progresses. Gary bonds with Keefe over their belief in prioritising family. Betts reveals the vulnerable side of Gary, making him more human and empathetic than we imagine him to be. For someone whose childhood wasn’t a bed of roses, Gary’s non-judgemental attitude towards people’s past makes us believe he is more than just a flashy character.
The case could feel a bit information-heavy for the audience. However, Betts balances the narration by throwing the spotlight on the country’s deep-seated racism, corporate politics, and the ugly truths about capitalism. Betts ensures the courtroom portions are engaging by pitting the vibrant Gary against an equally strong-willed opposition in Mame Downes (Jurnee Smollett).
In the climax, when the rejuvenated Gary goes for the kill in the courtroom, you know what to expect. Yet, the film’s big-heartedness makes us forgive its predictability.
The Burial is currently streaming on Prime Video.