Prime Video’s legal drama, The Burial, is one of the most audience friendly movies to play at this year’s TIFF.
PLOT: A nearly bankrupt funeral home owner (Tommy Lee Jones) is screwed in a deal by an unscrupulous, corporately run competitor. He enlists the aid of a flashy personal injury lawyer (Jamie Foxx) in a court case that blows the lid off of dishonest practices in the industry.
REVIEW: Maggie Betts’ The Burial was the biggest surprise of this year’s TIFF. Set for a limited, one-week run in theatres on October 6th before making its streaming debut on Prime Video on October 13th, it feels like the streamer doesn’t really know what a high-quality film they have on their hands. Based on the true story of Jeremiah Joseph O’Keefe (Jones), a kindly, honest funeral home owner who was nearly bankrupted by a massive corporate competitor, the Loewen Group, it’s a highly entertaining David vs. Goliath tale that has two potentially award-worthy performances at its heart.
Both Tommy Lee Jones and Jamie Foxx are often taken for granted. We’re so used to them showing up and being excellent in movies that it takes some kind of absence for you to realize what they bring to the screen. Jones didn’t work through much of the pandemic, only to return with a one-two punch here at TIFF in Finestkind and The Burial. Foxx has been in a lot of stuff recently but also suffered through a significant health crisis that, for a while, looked like it might sideline him for a long time (thankfully – he’s on the mend).
If the strike wasn’t happening, I bet Prime Video would have both guys doing the awards circuit because they’re superb in roles explicitly tailored to their personas. Jones has that kind of old-school charm, carrying himself with quiet dignity and gravitas, while Foxx is the opposite, all-flash and sizzle. They play off each other perfectly as opposites who find common ground in their desire to see justice done.
Foxx’s Willie E. Gary is truly a larger-than-life character, with him based on a real guy who was so successful as an attorney that he had not only a private jet but was profiled on “Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous”, with Betts recreating the profile segment. While he’s initially playing Gary for laughs, as the film goes on, you get more of a sense of the lawyer’s concern for O’Keefe, with the two finding that despite their apparent differences, they share many of the same values.
While definitely a vehicle for Jones and Foxx, the supporting cast is uncommonly strong. Elemental’s Mamoudou Athie leads as a young lawyer working for O’Keefe, who pushes the older man to hire a lead black attorney, given that their jury will be primarily black. Jurnee Smollett has her best role to date as the driven, high-profile attorney hired by the movie’s antagonist, Bill Camp’s slimy Raymond Loewen (no one evokes malice quite like Camp). Alan Ruck also has an excellent part as O’Keefe’s old-school southern attorney, whose family ties to the KKK come back to haunt the case.
What’s interesting about the O’Keefe case is that while it wasn’t openly about race, given that it was a battle between two white men, the issue became critical. First, it was because of the jury; second, because of the lawyers, but finally, it became mainly about race and class when it discovered Loewen’s chain was gouging mostly poor black clients, a practice the principled O’Keefe deplores.
Meanwhile, Maggie Betts, who is coming off the starkly different Novitiate, directs the film with a lighter touch than expected. Despite how serious the case wound up being, she’s not afraid to make you laugh at Gary’s flash or Jones and Foxx singing and dancing to ‘Tony! Toni! Toné!’ in a private jet. She takes what could have been a heavy-handed drama and makes it fun. It’s too bad that the movie is only getting a moderate theatrical release, as had MGM and Amazon put the kind of marketing muscle they put into Air into The Burial, it might have been a hit. Given that the stars won’t be able to promote it, I’m hoping it doesn’t vanish too quickly or get lost on streaming because it’s a nifty little sleeper.
Originally published at https://www.joblo.com/the-burial-tiff-review/