All-star courtroom drama The Burial raises questions about justice

Film review of The Burial (Amazon Prime) – 4 out of 5 stars

When it comes to a film about disputed contract law, there must be something special in the performances by the lead actors that allows the courtroom drama to capture the audience’s attention. Yet, despite commanding performances from Academy Award-winning actors Jamie Foxx and Tommy Lee Jones, it is the embodiment of lawyer Willie E. Gary that makes this legal spectacle worth discovering.

Jeremiah Joseph O’Keefe (Jones) had a family-owned funeral home business throughout southern Mississippi, and he thought he had made a deal with Loewen Funeral Company that would help him out of his financial woes. The company’s CEO, Raymond Loewen (Bill Camp), dragged the process out so long that it almost bankrupted the Southern businessman. This led Jeremiah to sue the company and use a different courtroom tactic by hiring the eccentric and successful personal injury lawyer Willie E. Gary (Foxx) to lead the case.

As things unfold in the courtroom and in the private lives of both men, they realise that this case will test their resolve beyond anything they have done in their lives.

Writer/director Maggie Betts, with the assistance of screenwriter Doug Wright, managed to take Jonathan Harr’s New Yorker article and make a compelling and comedic courtroom drama. This team works to discover enough humanity and humour within the case to keep the audience engaged until the dramatic conclusion. As they expose the questionable tactics of the Loewen funeral company and lean into the theatrical manner of Willie E. Gary, the story becomes heartwarming and entertaining throughout the film.

The convincing theatrics of Jamie Foxx and the stoic style of Tommy Lee Jones is a perfect combination.

Still, the whole story works due to the committed performances from Jamie Foxx and the cast. The convincing theatrics of Foxx’s portrayal of Willie E. Gary and the stoic style of Tommy Lee Jones as his client is a perfect combination. They balance one another’s characters, and pull the viewer into their on-screen lives despite being a wealthy lawyer and a funeral home operator.

This irresistible pair is surrounded by a great cast, including Jurnee Smollett, Mamoudou Athie and Bill Camp, who help to carry this film through to the end. Alan Ruck (Succession), as the self-professed bigotted family lawyer Mike Allred, shows how understatement can be an art form in itself.

In a year of cinematic disruption due to the industry strikes, The Burial is a refreshing option worth finding. Between the performances and tightly written script, this story will make audiences want to return to the courtroom.

Tommy Lee Jones as Jeremiah O'Keefe and Jamie Foxx as Willie Gary in The Burial

Tommy Lee Jones as Jeremiah O’Keefe (left) and Jamie Foxx (right) as Willie Gary in The Burial Skip Bolen / Prime Video

Reel Dialogue: Why do we care about ethics?

Why do we love seeing lawyers argue their case on the big screen? This can only be explained by our desire for fairness and the delivery of justice. Stories like The Burial are made because people want to know if the underdog can topple the unethical giant of business. Why else would anyone care about a funeral operator in Mississippi suing a Canadian company?

So, where does this need for justice get its origins? Some may say that laws and rules were created by man over time, but there has to be an ultimate authority.

“The Lord is a God of justice.” – Isaiah 30:18

Another consideration is that the need for justice is hard-wired into mankind, and the explanation can be found in God’s words and very nature, being a God of justice. Studying through his words shows that he wants all things to be made right. It might seem a stretch to think that a story about an eccentric lawyer and his funeral-home-owner client can initiate a deeper consideration of justice and God, but why not seek the real answers to justice and ask where they can be found?

“Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.” – Isaiah 30:18

Russ Matthews works for City Bible Forum as the Product Manager for The Edge and Reel Dialogue. He has a passion for film and getting conversations started on themes from these visual creations. This review first appeared on Third Space and is republished with permission.

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