In the vast landscape of cinema, where spectacle often overshadows substance, there’s a rare joy in encountering a film that serves as a comforting cinematic feast. Director Maggie Betts’ “The Burial,” a delightful blend of ’90s courtroom drama and extreme comedy, emerges as a breath of fresh air reminiscent of a Southern summer breeze. The story unfolds in Mississippi, where flashy personal injury lawyer Willie E. Gary (Jamie Foxx) steps in to defend the mild-mannered Jeremiah O’Keefe (Tommy Lee Jones) against a powerful multi-billion dollar corporation.
“The Burial” might have its quirks, including thin characterizations, an oddly framed rivalry, and an anti-climactic ending. However, Betts’ crowd-pleasing narrative of unlikely partners turned friends is irresistibly entertaining. The tale kicks off a few months earlier when financially struggling Jeremiah, the owner of funeral homes and a burial insurance business, ventures to Vancouver with his longtime lawyer Mike Allred (Alan Ruck) to seal a deal with CEO Ray Loewen (Bill Camp). When the deal stalls, young attorney Hal (Mamoudou Athie) suspects foul play and convinces Jeremiah to sue in predominantly Black Hinds County, paving the way for the entrance of Willie E. Gary.
Unlike many mixed-race films attempting to address deep-seated racial issues within a superficial feel-good story, “The Burial” doesn’t pretend to solve centuries of inequality in its 126-minute runtime. The film doesn’t center around healing Jeremiah’s conscience either. Instead, Jamie Foxx shines as Willie, delivering one of his most vibrant and humorous performances to date.
In contrast, the other characters lack depth. Jeremiah remains functional, and even with a large family, we learn little about him beyond his reserved demeanor. Willie’s wife, Gloria (Amanda Warren), and Jeremiah’s lawyers, Hal and Mike, suffer similar underdeveloped fates. The dynamic between Willie and Mame Downes (Jurnee Smollett), Loewen’s attorney, adds depth to the story but leaves some uncomfortable questions unanswered.
While race isn’t the primary focus of “The Burial,” it permeates the narrative, set against the backdrop of the O.J. Simpson trial and the South’s troubling racial history. The film skillfully incorporates culturally specific Black humor, with Willie serving as a hilariously gaudy yet endearing character. Foxx’s nuanced performance elevates the film, infusing it with tension, frivolity, and rigor, transforming it from a common courtroom drama into a memorable comedy with enduring re-watch value.
“The Burial” may have its shortcomings, but its heart and soul lie in Foxx’s performance, making it a heartwarming tale of justice and friendship. As the courtroom scenes unfold, Foxx’s charisma breathes life into the film, turning it into a captivating and distinctive comedy that resonates deeply.