‘The Burial’ review: Jamie Foxx gives stirring courtroom ‘testimony’

While it’s easy to imagine lawyers shouting “Objection, Your Honor!” Good luck convincing audiences that this David and Goliath legal showdown between a small Southern funeral home operator and an unethical Canadian billionaire should have played out differently. Demonstrating talents far beyond her 2017 indie debut The Novitiate, director Maggie Betts has crafted a rousing, old-school crowd-pleaser with this truth-based (if strategically embellished) drama featuring Jamie Foxx’s most entertaining performance yet petto. who makes a day in court feel like going to church.

Foxx plays Willie E. Gary, a Southern Baptist personal injury lawyer who embodies the spirit of evangelical preachers in every legal activity – hardly the lawyer you’d expect from Jeremiah “Jerry” O’Keefe (Tommy Lee Jones), a 75-year-old -former business owner in Biloxi, Miss., to represent him. But this unlikely partnership between a charismatic black man and an unpredictable good ol’ boy makes the dynamic of “The Burial” more entertaining than “Green Book.” And while viewers may not realize it at first, the examination of the multibillion-dollar “death care” industry at the center of this particular case reveals much about the workings of social hierarchies in the United States

The script, which Betts co-wrote with Doug Wright based on a 1999 article in The New Yorker, doesn’t shy away from playing the race card. In fact, you could say it’s a full-fledged poker tournament with sharp observations on race and class And Address gender in a respectful yet entertaining way. “The Burial” opens with a recreation of an actual episode of “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” in which Willie shows off his Florida mansion, his beautiful wife Gloria (Amanda Warren), and his private jet, which he christened “Wings of Justice.” .” His watch alone seems expensive enough to solve poor Jerry’s debt problems.

Jerry is a guileless family man with 13 children and eight funeral homes. The problem is that he got caught up in a scam by investing money regulators want him to pay for his funeral insurance business, and now the government is threatening to shut him down. That’s the only reason he hires his long-time lawyer Mike Allred (Alan Ruck, giving a great hateful performance) to cut a deal with Ray Loewen (Bill Camp, equally loathsome), a callous Canadian investor who’s buying up independents Funeral homes across the country. Ray’s plan: “To transport myself to what I call the ‘golden age of death’.”

Most Americans don’t think about the high cost of burial or cremation until they actually lose a loved one, and yet it’s an issue that will affect everyone sooner or later. As the case progresses, it becomes clear that Ray’s conglomerate gobbled up funeral homes in low-income areas and raised prices for basic coffins in a way that directly affected people of color. Early on, at the encouragement of Junior Counsel Hal (Mamoudou Athie), Jerry flies to Florida to watch Willie in action.

This monologue is considered one of the film’s greatest scenes, with Foxx delivering a fiery final statement whose punchline is that he’s demanding $75 million in damages – although my personal favorite comes later, when Willie is speaking to opposing counsel Mame Downes (Jurnee ) something drinks Smollett). I would equate the delicate power struggle dramatized there with the tête-à-tête between Al Pacino and Robert De Niro in “Heat”. Early on, Jerry has to convince Willie and a team of well-dressed black lawyers to take the job. Later, when Mame embarrasses him in court, Willie is the one who bargains not to be left out of the proceedings entirely.

Unlike “To Kill a Nightingale” or “Matlock” (to name just two southern legal dramas), the fate of this case is not in the hands of white people. Because the lawsuit was filed in Hinds County, where two-thirds of the population is black, both sides are retaining African-American attorneys. Allred proves to be a liability (for reasons evident from the way he addresses non-white characters as “son”) while Willie and Hal play to their audience – the Judge (Lance E. Nichols) and eight of the jurors are Black and all identify as Christian.

Meanwhile, Ray is smart enough to realize what’s happening, which is why he hires Mame, who once worked as a caseworker for Sandra Day O’Connor and acts like a young Pam Grier. She is a fictional character (invented by Betts) who adds a compelling gender dimension to an otherwise dude-heavy film. While Mame is sophisticated, Willie is a glorified ambulance chaser with cheesy nouveau riche taste, and although he makes a big deal in front of Ray’s boat (implying that Loewen is rich enough to afford multimillion-dollar damages), is the fact that they both have private planes suggests a certain level of hypocrisy on his part. The character who comes across as a hero here is Jerry, a model anti-racist who seems amused by Willie’s flamboyance.

Jones and Foxx are actors with opposite energy levels, and yet they mesh beautifully together on screen. This just goes to show how far Betts has come since her debut, where Melissa Leo (playing an unhinged Mother Superior) ran away with the show. Although Foxx delivers an outstanding performance here, Betts does a much better job of integrating his supernova energy into the overall ensemble. Sometimes she instructs Foxx to be very subtle to let Jones be more subtle, like in the meeting where both sides discuss a deal and pass him a piece of paper with a very large (probably eight-digit) number scrawled on it back and forth. Betts doesn’t show the total, but lets it play out on her characters’ faces.

While “The Burial” is politically cutting-edge, it feels like a throwback to Sidney Lumet-style courtroom dramas from an earlier decade – the kind in which judges banged gavels and shouted “Order in court!” It’s hard to imagine the judge letting Willie or Mame get away with preaching like they do in his courtroom, but Betts orchestrates it in a way that, even more than “The Novitiate,” makes you want to clap your hands and would scream “Amen!”

https://variety.com/2023/film/reviews/the-burial-review-jamie-foxx-tommy-lee-jones-1235720457/ ‘The Burial’ review: Jamie Foxx gives stirring courtroom ‘testimony’


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