The Burial

The Burial
The Burial
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A white funeral home owner in Mississippi hires a black personal injury lawyer from Florida to sue a giant Canadian corporation that’s trying to put him out of business. “The Burial,” based on Jonathan Harr’s New Yorker article, is essentially a David versus Goliath comedy-drama about two people who seem like they couldn’t be less alike finding common ground and winning an improbable legal victory together. The story, which takes place in 1995 Biloxi, is deeply rooted in race — as well as poverty and the legacy of Southern sins. The movie occasionally verges into cornball territory but hooks you with its performances; Tommy Lee Jones and Jamie Foxx bring humor, heart and star power to an otherwise formulaic underdog narrative.

That year, Jeremiah O’Keefe (Jones), owner of eight funeral homes and a burial insurance company, found himself facing financial ruin. A World War II hero and father of 13 children, he wanted to leave something behind for his family when he went. But the state had threatened to revoke his business license if he couldn’t keep the lights on. So Jeremiah sold three of his funeral homes to the Loewen Group — Ray Loewen (Bill Camp), a Canadian billionaire who was also one of the biggest death-care magnates in the world, with hundreds of funeral homes and cemeteries at his disposal, not to mention an enormous insurance company — which swallowed up smaller competitors using any means necessary.

Months after Mike and Jeremiah agreed to sell him part of their business during a meeting at a no-tell motel outside Mobile, Ray still hadn’t signed any contracts — just kept saying he needed more time. Smelling a rat, Jeremiah figured out what the rest began to suspect: The Loewen Group knew he was hanging on by a thread; they could drag this deal out for another few months until all his other locations tanked financially; then they could buy them all in bankruptcy for pennies on the dollar. (Real-life spoiler: He was right.) Enraged, Jeremiah changes his mind and threatens to sue Ray for breach of contract and damages. “You cannot fight these people,” says Mike. “They will destroy us.”

The team gets an infusion from Hal Dockins (Mamoudou Athie), a young black lawyer who’s friends with Jeremiah’s oldest son and signs on against Mike’s better judgment — a move he telegraphs by doing everything but cackling maniacally and twirling a long, thin mustache when he first shows up in the movie. Hal is a newbie who just passed the bar; he hasn’t even decorated his office yet. But within five minutes of meeting him, we see that while Michael might be the smartest person in Biloxi, Mississippi, Hal is clearly going to end up being the smartest person on Earth. As soon as he figures out what Mike has already deduced — that there are no surprise witnesses or smoking guns hidden inside Ray Loewen’s underwear drawer — it’s game over.

Hal gives Jeremiah tapes of “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” On one episode, Willie E. Gary (Foxx) reveals himself to be fabulously successful by any measure besides taste or humility. A son of sugar-cane workers who grew up poor in Florida, Willie became one of America’s premier personal injury lawyers; after winning a series of multimillion-dollar verdicts, he made himself rich enough to afford multiple fancy cars and mansions … not to mention a private jet called the Wings of Justice. The most important stat? Willie hadn’t lost a case in more than 12 years. If this movie were about Jewish guys instead of black guys, every other sentence would be punctuated with “Oy vey!” Instead we get Tom Jones saying things like “Jesus, Joseph and Mary in a Chinese apple tree!”

In the second act of The Burial, there is a dramatic shift that throws off the pacing of the film. The court isn’t funny. They know they’re in trouble with this racial stuff — the Loewen Group does. It’s going to be tried by a black judge and jury. Enter Mame Downes (Jurnee Smollett) into this legal equation. Ray hires Willie’s team leader, who is also the best black woman contract lawyer around. Willie knows he’s never tried a contract law case before but bruh this might be his most dangerous challenge yet. And Mike, you can tell he feels it: This thing is going to be a nightmare.

The tone change reflects the movie’s real point of view, you could see something like what Jeremiah was coming from miles away. He was a good man — honest as they come — and you could always trust him at his word (which didn’t sit well with some folk). He treated everyone fair, and that’s not something lots of folks do ‘round here — especially with somebody like me who looks like Jeremiah would have treated just about any white man who came across his path half as decent as Willie Turner deserved to be treated after all them years spent getting mistreated by guys who looked like Jeremiah every day my whole life long if I ever seen one let alone worked directly under such an individual for mine own paycheck every week ‘til death did us part ain’t nobody got time fo’ dat! But yeah basically what I’m saying is don’t judge people based on what color their skin or where they come from or whatever because sometimes things ain’t always what they appear ‘n such anyway moving right along now bye-bye!

Willie and Jeremiah represented more than 8 funeral homes in Mississippi during their friendship which grew out from working together on those types cases which dealt mainly against deep south power structure since early days when southern states were still just colonies under british rule but long before civil war broke loose hereabouts so you know there’s got ta be something big at stake beyond them walls of justice them boys was always talking about who woulda thunk it huh? The Loewen Group realized this when they targeted poor black communities in Mississippi at their most vulnerable time — after slavery had ended and people were still tryna find a way to live free which left many folks with nothing to do but die ‘n such anyways yeah so that happened too.

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