MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
The first thing we see onscreen is part of a sermon preached at a Baptist Church in 1995. It’s about hope and home and the joys of “Black Church” where a person knows they are a child of God. But the preacher isn’t the pastor, but a guest speaker: Willie E. Gary (Foxx), a high-profile personal injury lawyer who specializes in multimillion dollar settlements. He lives in a mansion, has a private jet, and aspires for the media acclaim of Johnnie Cochran.
We then meet 75-year-old Jeremiah O’Keefe (Lee Jones), owner of eight funeral homes and a burial insurance company in Biloxi, Mississippi who is having financial trouble due to a bad investment decision. He is close to bankruptcy but receives an offer from a Canadian funeral company CEO Ray Loewen (Bill Camp) to sell off a couple of his funeral homes as well as his burial insurance business. O’Keefe’s primary attorney Mike Allred (Alan Ruck) advises him to go along with the sale, but his new younger attorney Hal Dockins (Mamoudou Athie) sees real trouble as months go by without action. In his opinion, it seems that the Canadians may be waiting to see him go under so that they can get the entire business at deep discount prices. Hal files a lawsuit against Loewen and then coaxes Jeremiah to come with him to Florida to enlist Willie Gary’s participation. There is considerable tension between Mike (a white racist) and Hal (a confident Black professional), but Jeremiah wants to save the family funeral business as a legacy to his large family. Willie is initially not interested in the case. It’s contract law and not personal injury and the estimated amount of damages – $6 million – is too small. But the persuasiveness of Hal, the sincerity of Jeremiah, and the possibilities of larger media attention are enough to get Willie on the team. And since the trial will take place in Hinds County, a primarily Black community, there is much to be gained with Willie as lead counsel. There is a major sticking point; Mike Allred wants to continue as lead attorney and he is the epitome of white privilege and racist microaggression.
As both sides prepare to do battle in the courtroom, The Burial celebrates the virtues of family, faith, integrity and community. The energy of Jamie Foxx, the soulfulness of Tommy Lee Jones, and a smart and funny script have created a true crowd-pleasing picture about small business doing battle with a giant mercenary corporation. Ironically, this movie is not going to be playing to packed theaters but only to those who subscribe to Amazon’s Prime Video. (You win a few, you lose a few.)
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
Four halos: An upbeat film that celebrates the possibilities of a wider circle of community.
Two pitchforks: Racism and racist epithets; alcohol use; a whole lot of swearing.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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