'The Burial' explores justice, humanity through heartfelt performances
  • Release Date: 13/10/2023
  • Platform: Amazon Prime Videos 
  • Cast: Jamie Foxx, Tommy Lee Jones, Jurnee Smollett
  • Director: Maggie Betts

The IMDb synopsis of Maggie Betts’ ‘The Burial‘ reads, “Inspired by true events, a lawyer helps a funeral home owner save his family business from a corporate behemoth, exposing a complex web of race, power, and injustice.” I’d like to add a bit more to it by saying that the film is essentially a courtroom drama with a quirky take on the paradox of a large corporation targeting a small business owner to satisfy their greed and eliminate the last bit of competition the small business owner has to offer to the masses.

The film also offers a satisfying and entertaining exploration of how African Americans and white Americans learned to coexist and identify with each other’s problems, highlighting the many similarities in their experiences. The film achieves this through its diverse characters and how they perceive and navigate their lives throughout this significant court case. In the film, the white protagonist faces off against a large corporation and willingly seeks the assistance of a successful black attorney to go up against another black woman attorney who will stop at nothing to win the case for the corporation.

I’ve mentioned this before, and I can’t help but reiterate that Hollywood excels in creating courtroom dramas like no one else can. They invariably manage to provide a captivating exploration of different legal battles in a distinct and entertaining manner while maintaining the realism and heart of each respective story. This aspect of Hollywood filmmaking is truly awe-inspiring, and ‘The Burial’ is no exception. While it’s a known fact that the story the film aims to convey is both entertaining and shocking, condensing it into a coherent and impactful screenplay of about 2 hours was no easy feat. Director Maggie Betts deserves credit not only for presenting just enough of the characters, their backstories, eccentricities, and lives to help the audiences bond with the characters but also for emphasizing what’s most important, impactful, and entertaining in their lives. By doing so, she not only enhances the impact of an already inspiring story but also ensures that every aspect of the case remains etched in our memories forever through her masterful rendition of it all.

I thoroughly enjoyed Maggie Betts’ approach to the storytelling. She didn’t delve too deeply into the details of the case. Many aspects of the case are glossed over, and it wouldn’t be inaccurate to say that the case is presented more as highlights rather than a comprehensive rendering of the entire legal battle. However, this storytelling approach provided Betts with a unique opportunity to emphasize specific aspects of the case and amplify them to a degree that not only created a more significant impact but also ensured our undivided attention was focused on the defining elements of the case. This approach also granted the director ample room to craft heightened dramatic moments and allowed the characters to engage in scintillating theatrics that I thoroughly enjoyed.

As is often the case, the performances in the film were pivotal in defining the impact of the respective characters and the storytelling on the audience. Jamie Foxx absolutely excelled in his role as the flashy yet deeply committed attorney, Willie Gary, for whom the case and the protagonist, Jerry O’Keefe (Tommy Lee Jones), became far more important than making a splash on the national legal scene, which was his initial motivation for taking up the case. As the story unfolds, we witness Willie Gary forming a profound personal bond with O’Keefe as they connect over shared challenges in their unique ways, discovering that the American experience for both of them has been somewhat similar. This mutual respect becomes evident in their interactions. This aspect of the two characters elevates the drama in the narrative and adds to the enjoyment of watching the drama unfold as Gary delivers one blow after another to the corporation, with O’Keefe visibly relishing these moments from his corner. The two veteran actors seize the opportunity to breathe life into their characters, making it impossible to resist their charm and captivating screen presence.

Jurnee Smollett’s portrayal of the opposing attorney, Mame Downes, is surprisingly likeable. Despite her task to dismantle the case of O’Keefe and Gary, she never evolves into a true villain who elicits hatred. On the contrary, she comes across as likable, believable, and ultimately earns our respect for doing everything in her power to protect her client, even if he’s a crook. The exchanges between Smollett and Foxx are enjoyable as both actors bring the most charming aspects of their personalities to the forefront in these conversations. Mamoudou Athie’s small but significant role is noticeable.

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‘The Burial’ concludes with a remarkable climax that not only elevates everything we’ve experienced throughout the film but also encapsulates it with a touch of heroism, inspiration, a sense of victory, and accomplishment. There’s that sweet, satisfying feeling of good triumphing over evil, which exudes a captivating charm and warmth. I truly admired how the two primary characters are shown bonding in the end, their expressions of satisfaction aligning perfectly with the overall mood and sentiment of the film. It’s worth noting that this is one of those rare true stories where both black and white Americans collaborated to take down a large corporation. For all these reasons and more, I was genuinely enamoured by the climax and the heart that the director was able to infuse into it and throughout the rest of the film. ‘The Burial’ is a must-watch if you’re a fan of courtroom dramas like I am. But even if that’s not your usual preference, I recommend giving this film a watch simply because of how entertaining, engaging, uplifting, and well-acted it is.

Rating: 3.5/5 (3.5 out of 5 Stars)

The views expressed in this article are that of the reviewer and do not reflect EastMojo’s position.

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