The Burial (film, 2023)
I couldn't sleep last Thursday night due to excruciating heartburn. After tossing and turning for hours, I decided to put a movie on to distract myself. That's when The Burial caught my eye on Amazon Prime.
I've seen my fair share of courtroom dramas over the years. However, I have to say that The Burial really stood out to me as something special. While it ticks many boxes we've come to expect from the genre, this film feels particularly rich in its characters, storytelling, and themes.
Directed by Maggie Betts, the movie tells the real story of a 1995 lawsuit filed by funeral home owner Jeremiah Joseph O'Keefe (Jerry O'Keefe ) against the Canadian conglomerate The Loewen Group. Played masterfully by Tommy Lee Jones, Jerry finds himself in financial trouble due to bad investments. Hoping to stay afloat, he agrees to sell three of his eight funeral homes to Loewen. However, the deal falls through, leading Jerry to take Loewen to court, represented by flashy attorney Willie E. Gary, portrayed brilliantly by Jamie Foxx.
A captivating courtroom drama follows as these David and Goliath figures square off. But The Burial is more than just an entertaining legal battle. It's a rich story about community, family, friendship, and standing up for what's right in the face of large corporate interests. It grapples with important themes around race, class, and power in an authentic, moving way.
Perhaps what I appreciated most was the film's fully realized characters. When Jerry and Willie meet, their rapport feels honest and heartwarming. Despite coming from different worlds, an unlikely bond forms between them. Jones and Foxx share phenomenal chemistry, finding the humanity in even the most complex figures. Their performances anchored the entire film.
We also see nuanced sides to Mame Downes, the ambitious Loewen lawyer played sharply by Jurnee Smollett. And standout supporting roles from Alan Ruck as Jerry's counsel and Mamoudou Athie as the rookie lawyer Hal Dockins add extra layers of interest. Nothing feels one-dimensional here. Even the villainous Ray Loewen, portrayed mysteriously by Bill Camp, has shades of understanding to him.
Betts directed with a keen sense of pacing. The courtroom scenes thrill as dramatic revelations unfold. Still, she finds space for sincere emotional beats and even moments of humor between the legal intensity. Behind it all is a subtle yet powerful message about fairness and the little guy taking on systematic oppression. The film says a lot without being preachy or didactic.
Technically, the production is superb. Maryse Alberti perfectly captures the warmth of the small town of Mississippi while elevating crucial scenes. The atmosphere and period setting feel completely authentic, from the costuming to the soundtrack choices. Loving attention to detail went into the filmmaking.
Perhaps most remarkably, The Burial effectively tells a complex true story without losing the audience. The complicated legal ins and outs are accessible, thanks to clear storytelling and strong characters. While predictably dramatic, even the conclusion feels emotionally cathartic and leaves one thinking. It sticks with you.
Overall, I applaud The Burial for rising above the usual lawyer flick tropes to deliver something truly resonant. This film is about community, justice, and fighting against oppressive power structures - themes that still deeply resonate today. But it's also an immensely entertaining legal drama with outstanding performances and filmmaking. The Burial should not be missed by any fan of the genre or character-driven stories. This courtroom gem gets my highest recommendation.
Nb: I haven't read the book.