Loaded with history and lightly sprinkled with humor, “The Burial” is a beautifully told story inspired by true events. Based on The New Yorker article of the same name by Jonathan Harr, it’s the true tale of a flashy and charismatic Black attorney Willie E. Gary, who earned his reputation as “The Giant Killer” by taking down some of America’s most well-known corporate giants on behalf of his clients.
In the film, he is aptly played by Jamie Foxx who brings plenty of humor and hubris to the role.
The story is a simple one. Jeremiah O’Keefe (Tommy Lee Jones), the owner of several burial homes, is facing bankruptcy and agrees to sell part of his business to a conglomerate run by Ray Loewen (Bill Camp). When their contract isn’t properly executed, Jeremiah decides to sue and hires Willie to represent him. Willie is a personal injury lawyer and although he’s never lost a case, contracts law isn’t his forte and as the Florida lawyer and his eclectic team of Black lawyers arrive in Jackson, Mississippi to tackle the case, what follows is a beautiful told history lesson doused with humor.
Also starring Jurnee Smollett as Mame Downes, a Howard and Harvard-educated Black lawyer who has earned the fitting nickname, “The Python, it’s a film about the funeral home industry, American slavery, racism and prejudice all rolled into a screen gem.
From the boardroom to the courtroom tempers flare as the sordid details of the case surface including how many enslaved Africans were buried in unmarked graves beneath many well-known monuments and how the Black church was exploited. On the surface, “The Burial” is a story about a contract law dispute, but there are simmering issues related to race, class, corporate greed and corruption.
Foxx, who also serves as a producer on the film does a remarkable job of portraying Willie and inhabits the character with so much voracity and admirably immerses himself in the role.
Directed by Maggie Betts, the film has a great supporting cast that include Dorian Crossmond Missick, Mamoudou Athie, Pamela Reed, Bill Camp, and Alan Ruck.
For Betts, the racial dynamics of the story were an essential theme. “When you consider the fact that this case is a contract dispute between two white men over funeral homes, you would never imagine that it would have anything to do with race,” she says. “But I think that’s really the point of the story. It’s about how race somehow manages to seep into every aspect of American life, which is also a metaphor for how our country can never seem to get past it. At the heart of the film is a very timeless ‘David and Goliath’ story with the capacity to appeal to everyone.”
Hollywood has a long tradition of adapting true stories and this Amazon Studios feature is a positive film that delivers on all cylinders.
Samantha Ofole-Prince is a journalist and movie critic who covers industry-specific news that includes television and film. She serves as the Entertainment Editor for Trendy Africa.