The Burial (2023)

The Burial (2023)

A crowd-pleasing legal drama stacked with incredible performances



United States of America
Comedy, Drama, History
Alan Ruck, Amanda Warren, Andrea Frankle
126 min


Not to be reductive, but this vaguely feels like what Green Book could've been if it was good.

What it's about

Elderly funeral home owner Jeremiah O'Keefe enlists charismatic personal injury lawyer Willie Gary to represent him, following a contractual dispute against the much wealthier Loewen Group.

The take

Many people lament the decline of the mid-budget drama with Hollywood A-listers in the lead roles, and for good reason: when the charms of an inspirational, feel-good true story work, they really work. The Burial seems to have been made with this same, unabashedly sentimental attitude, and it makes for an endlessly watchable courtroom underdog tale. The film moves with real energy between its more comedic asides and its more urgent themes of underprivileged people being taken advantage of by wealthy companies. And while it still would've probably been effective as just a straightforward legal drama, the movie makes the effort to seek out a bigger picture—deepening its own title by grounding all its characters against complicated race relations in Mississippi.

Director and co-writer Maggie Betts doesn't stray too far from the template that these kinds of films operate with (perhaps to a fault, especially during its climactic moments), but the cast she's assembled is unimpeachable. Jamie Foxx turns in the kind of funny, energetic, deeply felt star performance that earned him an Oscar almost 20 years ago, while Tommy Lee Jones brings a powerful sense of modesty and centeredness to a role that could've easily taken a back seat to his flashier co-lead. Supporting turns from Jurnee Smollett and Alan Ruck round out a uniformly great ensemble that gives this small movie a commanding air of prestige.

What stands out

It's tough to single out one thing that makes The Burial work so much better than it has any right to, but the adversarial relationship between the lead attorneys—Foxx's Willie Gary and Smollett's Mame Downes—is so much more developed than what we usually see from these kinds of movies. For once it doesn't seem like the "other side" (in this case, the defense team) are bad people; they're just representing a bad client, whom both lawyers have reservations with on a personal level. So when Willie and Mame go head-to-head over a witness, it really feels like they're trying to earn a victory, and not just giving us somebody to root for or against.


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