New Prime Video film The Burial is based on a lawsuit brought by Mississippi funeral director Jeremiah O’Keefe against the Loewen funeral company, and if you like your David v Goliath courtroom dramas it will be deliciously satisfying.
After all you get the towering talents of Jamie Foxx, Tommy Lee Jones and Jurnee Smollett, along with Alan Ruck and Bill Camp.
The 1990s case surrounds O’Keefe (Jones) being high in debt seeking to sell 3 of his 8 state funeral homes to Canadian funeral giant Raymond Loewen (Camp) -but the deal stalled, with young black lawyer Hal Dawkins (Mamoudou Athie) convinced their tactic was to drive O’Keefe’s family business into bankruptcy. Loewen also had a reputation for exorbitant prices in an increasingly monopolised business which he refers to as The Golden Era of Death.
“My customers are dead guys!” Loewen boasts.
When O’Keefe decides to sue for breach of contract, Dawkins suggests he hire charismatic Willie E. Gary (Foxx) who had built his wealth and reputation on never losing a case in 12 years. Indeed, it’s a fine line between the theatrics of a flashy lawyer and a Baptist Revival preacher, with Willie comfortably testifying in court as passionately as from a pulpit.
But for O’Keefe’s conservative white lawyer (Ruck), having to work alongside an all-black legal team tests his tolerance.
Make no mistake, The Burial is a film about race. When Loewen realises the case will be tried by Gary before a black judge and predominantly black jury, he hires young black lawyer Mame Downes (Smollett) who has a reputation as “the python.”
There are classic courtroom scenes with Foxx and Smollett going to to toe on the floor, snappily edited together.
The script by Doug Wright, with director Maggie Betts, allows for plenty of rises and falls in the plot, where all hope is lost, and emotions and tenacity are forced to dig deep to push towards victory. That in turn lends itself to scenery-chewing performances from Foxx, in particular, as well as veteran Tommy Lee Jones and the mettle of Jurnee Smollett. Special mention too to Mamoudou Athie, quickly dismissed as a wet-behind-the-ears young black lawyer.
The film is a little long-in-the-tooth with a running time tipping two hours, but is overwhelmingly carried by its prevailing sense of justice, deep racism and white entitlement. And watch for a special cameo when the final credits roll.
If you love your John Grisham courtroom sagas, or Erin Brokovich-style fights against the big guy, The Burial easily has you covered.
The Burial screens Friday October 13 on Prime Video.