Will E. Gary was known for his flashy litigation style, comparable to only the Johnnie Cochran. It was a style that garnered much media attention in the fact that he was an undefeated personal injury lawyer.. Jeremiah O’ Keefe was a hard working proprietor of at least eight funeral homes in Mississippi, was a war veteran and served as his town’s mayor for two terms. When these two men cross paths, they become linked for eternity as their lives change forever. Based on a true story and adapted from a book by Jonathan Harris, The Burial is set in 1995 as Gary assists funeral-home owner Jeremiah Joseph O’Keefe sue a large burial company, the Loewen Group, over a contractual dispute that exposes an even deeper story of race and power.
It would be easy to classify this film as one soley about race, but there is so much more to this story than meets the eye. Misogyny, bigotry, ambition, friendship, vulnerability, black love and a wasteland of slavery burial ground crunched underneath the hundreds of feet walking across this land unaware of its history or importance.
At the heart of the film is the bromance between Jerry and Will E., spectacularly performed by Oscar winners Jamie Foxx and Tommy Lee Jones. Foxx’s plane monologue tells the audience and Jerry everything they need to know about Gary’s ambition, drive and how he is constantly striving to be one step ahead of the bigoted southern idealism pushed his way for no other reason than the color of his skin. Witnessing the acting prowess of these two titans is as good as it gets.
Jurnee Smollett proves once again that she has no characterization boundaries as she tackles Howard University grad Mamie Downes. Smollett is smart, elegant, flirty and dangerous in one fell swoop! Mamoudou Athie has that Sidney Poitier cool, calm and collected vibe as he navigates microaggressions from his own legal team as the newly minted college grad.
Director/writer Maggie Betts screenplay and direction never once tries to resolve or absolve the racism, but rather addresses it head on while making the audience lie in that truth as uncomfortable as can be. We watch a member of the legal team get sacked because his Grandad was a Klan member. Not only does Mike admit this truth and doesn’t back away from his lineage, but backs away from the case instead.
Lastly, a bad taste is left from the unapologetic greed the Loewen Group flagrantly flaunts while grief gauging hundreds of unsuspecting Black people dring the worst time of their lives.
The Burial will make you laugh, make you mad, make you cry and make you ponder the next time you see an empty lot in any city anywhere whether or not your ancestors may have inhabited that space.