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    The Burial- A Heartfelt Legal Comedy Tackling Justice, Class, and Optimism

    Tommy Lee Jones and Jamie Foxx Lead a Stellar Cast in Maggie Betts' Feel-Good Courtroom Drama

    In the upcoming film “The Burial,” the captivating narrative revolves around funeral home owner and former politician Jerry O’Keefe, portrayed by the legendary Tommy Lee Jones, as he embarks on a legal battle against the formidable Loewen Group, spearheaded by the charismatic personal injury lawyer Willie E. Gary, played by the talented Jamie Foxx. The movie, based on a true story that unfolded in Hinds County, Mississippi, in 1995, marks the second narrative feature from director Maggie Betts, with a screenplay penned by Doug Wright and Betts herself.

    O’Keefe’s life is a tapestry of complexity, as he is not only the father of 13 children but also a grandfather to 22. Burdened by a mountain of debt concealed from even his closest confidants, including his wife portrayed by Pamela Reed, O’Keefe’s focus, at his stage in life, is on securing his legacy to ensure the well-being of his extensive family once he is gone. Despite being the owner of multiple funeral homes, financial struggles have compelled him to contemplate selling his business. His attorney and friend, Mike Allred, played by Alan Ruck, orchestrates a pivotal meeting with Raymond Loewen, portrayed by Bill Camp, the billionaire proprietor of the Loewen Group. Loewen seeks to expand his immensely successful death and burial insurance empire, and they proceed to draft a contract. O’Keefe signs, but Loewen hesitates.

    Realizing that Loewen has no intention of sealing the deal, O’Keefe enlists the assistance of young lawyer Hal Dockins, portrayed by Mamoudou Athie, to initiate legal action against the billionaire. As they anticipate the likelihood of facing a Black judge and a predominantly Black jury, Dockins introduces O’Keefe to Willie E. Gary, a prosperous attorney with a private plane and an unbroken 12-year winning streak in court. Hailing from a large, economically disadvantaged Southern family, Gary forms an immediate bond with O’Keefe, becoming the lawyer’s very first white client.

    While “The Burial” initially revolves around the death industry, it delves into broader themes of class inequality and the exorbitant cost of burying loved ones. Although Gary is affluent and O’Keefe enjoys a relatively comfortable lifestyle in his hometown, Loewen’s status as a billionaire with immense power and resources dwarfs both of them. This realization strengthens the bond between O’Keefe and Gary, as their shared class solidarity fuels their determination to expose Loewen’s dubious business practices and bring him to justice.

    Race plays a pivotal role in “The Burial,” drawing references to the O.J. Simpson trial and the legal strategies of Johnnie Cochran, whom Gary admires. Yet, the film transcends race to explore how perceptions of it can influence court proceedings. Set predominantly in the South, the characters navigate the complexities of prejudice and its impact on their lives.

    Maggie Betts, known for her debut narrative feature “Novitiate” in 2017, takes a departure from drama to embrace comedy in “The Burial.” The film exudes a feel-good ambiance reminiscent of 90s-era courtroom dramas, replete with larger-than-life personalities, impassioned monologues, and crowd-pleasing humor. Nearly every cast member contributes to the film’s comedic moments, resulting in a high success rate. Additionally, the introduction of Mame Downes, portrayed by Jurnee Smollett, as Loewen’s lead attorney infuses the film with newfound energy. Downes engages in courtroom battles against Gary with poise and confidence, further enhancing the film’s appeal.

    “The Burial” marks a return to form for Jamie Foxx, who delivers a standout performance in a substantial and playful role. As Gary, Foxx embraces his standup comedy roots, donning stylish suits and referring to himself in the third person. Amanda Warren, portraying Gary’s wife Gloria, matches Foxx’s comedic prowess, infusing the real-life couple with humor and warmth that elevate the film.

    Jurnee Smollett shines as the elegant and intelligent Downes, exuding confidence and wit as a character who knows she’s the smartest person in the room. Despite her character’s somewhat anachronistic attire, her dialogue seamlessly fits the time period, and her chemistry with Foxx is palpable. Smollett’s comedic talent, honed since her early days as a child star, adds a refreshing dynamic to the film.

    In “The Burial,” Tommy Lee Jones delivers a masterful performance, affirming his status as a seasoned actor renowned for portraying principled yet curmudgeonly characters who deeply care for those around them. His chemistry with Foxx is reminiscent of his collaboration with Will Smith in the “Men in Black” franchise, offering a more tender and heartfelt version. However, there is a notable difference in this performance: Jones embodies an optimist. O’Keefe is a man driven by belief in and commitment to a brighter future.

    Optimism serves as the heart of “The Burial,” a film that wholeheartedly believes in the power of the legal system to combat injustice. Furthermore, it contends that individuals of immense wealth can be held accountable for their actions. In an era marked by widespread strikes and the refusal of billionaires to redistribute wealth for the betterment of society, “The Burial” offers a refreshing narrative where a powerful individual is compelled to confront his own greed and inhumanity.

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