dir: Maggie Betts
There are no burials in The Burial. I can’t even guess why it’s called such. Sure, it involves funeral parlours, but there’s no specific burial.
Is there a general burial, one symbolising the finality of one’s hopes and dreams finally being put to rest? Is it a reference perhaps to what happens to the Goliath part of this David and Goliath story?
Plus I don’t remember any references in the Bible to how they buried this alleged giant felled by a sling and a stone. Maybe they used a bulldozer, maybe they blew him up like a dead beached whale with dynamite.
I mean, that sounds unlikely, but it’s happened. I’ve seen the footage. You can’t unsee it.
Jaime Foxx, for all his health problems this year, which nearly led to him dying, has put in two very solid performances in two flicks that will only be seen on streaming services. It’s a shame because they deserved to be seen by more people, maybe in cinemas, maybe projected onto the sides of large buildings. The other performance was in They Cloned Tyrone, but this performance, at least for the first half of the film, was much bigger and brasher (despite the fact that he played a pimp in the other film).
Willie E Gary seems like a persona created for a movie or for wrestling, but he is a real alive person who walks this earth and does his preacher / lawyer shtick for reals. Foxx plays him, in court, like a preacher expecting the jurors and other members of the court to yell “Amen!” after any of his statements. In case we didn’t figure it out seeing him in action in court, they also show him in a Black Baptist church firing up the locals.
He is immensely successful as a personal injury lawyer, very wealthy, rich enough to be showcased on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous *ugh*. He is vibrant and full of life, and he has an entire entourage of lawyers to both back him up and to keep things real.
In contrast, Tommy Lee Jones, my gods, age has not been kind to you. He plays the role of Jeremiah O’Keefe, the owner of a bunch of funeral homes way down South in Mississippi. He is a dull, destroyed man, whose bad choices in business are in stark contrast to what a good and noble man he is.
I am absolutely sure that this is not the intention with this film – I have to believe they believe in what they did and what happened. But I have to say that I watched this film with a certain amount of pleasure from knowing that the result of this case is not a testament to good triumphing over evil or a better legal strategy triumphing over a different legal strategy: it’s a testament to the phrase that probably comes from the Bible that says that Bullshit Baffles Brains, and that the best bullshitter wins over the most inconvenient of legal facts.
I’m not going to pretend that I have anywhere near enough experience in contracts law to be able to say what I’m about to say (but when does that stop anybody?), but just to pontificate for a second, I don’t think based on the legal merits of the case that the jury made the right decision here. I don’t think Jeremiah O’Keefe had anything close to a reasonable claim of damages, or that the evil corporation did anything actionable under the terms of the contract that it was alleged to have breached.
But that hardly matters. What matters is who won, and how much, and why.
The why of it is complicated. The reasons they even bring Willie Gary, prone to speaking of himself in the third person (naturally) in, is because of where the trial was to be held back in the dim distant reaches of 1995, the demographics of the area guaranteeing that there would be a high likelihood that much if not most of the jury would be African-American.
This is going to sound so cynical. Even though neither the plaintiff nor the defendant are Black, there is a remarkable dance / Kabuki theatre that has to be indulged in by those who want the best outcome (for themselves). Jeremiah already has an African-American lawyer advising him, being Hal Dockins (Mamoudou Athie), but his long term lawyer and friend of however many years Michael Allred (Alan Ruck), is a good ole boy, which is shorthand for “the South will rise again”, and who refers to all African-Americans as “son”, regardless of their age or occupation.
You just know he wishes he could call them “boy”.
Yes, you’re meant to want to punch him in the face. The other characters except for Jeremiah all want to punch him in the face too, but what I want to know is how Cameron from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off aged so significantly that he can play a lifelong peer and friend of someone as old as Tommy Lee Jones, who looks older than dirt. Alan Ruck also had a recent career as one of the more pathetic siblings in Succession, so pathetic that he’s often forgotten as existing by the main three siblings, but he’s definitely there, and he brings the same failson energy.
So, if Jeremiah’s team is going to be made up of mostly African-American lawyers, well, the evil Canadian company he’s fighting against has to hire a number of prominent African-American lawyers as well. They’re all top guns, but their leader (fictionalised, of course) is Mame Downes (Jurnee Smollett) who is a murderer. A flat out assassin. During the cross-examination of witnesses, she leaves metaphorical corpses in her wake.
It’s so unfair, and also inaccurate, but it’s great that she’s good at her job. She is competent, surgical and precise where Willie Gray is blustery, flowery and bombastic. Game respects game.
Again, despite the fact that the plaintiff is not African-American, nor the defendant, the corporation’s dealings with other groups, and the African-American community in general and specifics is used to paint a terrible picture of how mercenary and monstrous this company has been to so many people at their most vulnerable moments. The Loewen Corporation, yes, so awful, so mean. Still, they never find or say anything that proves they did anything wrong here, at least the evidence provided to us here.
Still, what does that matter. The corporation is personified by its creator, Raymond Loewen (the great Bill Camp), who first invited Jeremiah onto his $25 million mega-yacht, dripping as it was with lobsters and privilege.
Bill Camp is a great actor. This is how great he is: his name is completely unfamiliar to 99% of movie watchers, but anyone that’s watched anything over the last twenty years has seen him countless times. They just don’t know who he is.
But I know, Bill, I see you. I admire your work greatly. If you watched Queen’s Gambit, he played the janitor at the orphanage that taught the young prodigy how to play chess. So many other great roles. He is happy to do his thing without fanfare, without insisting upon himself.
Here he plays the kind of cold psychopath that we know CEOs are by dint of being CEOs, but he doesn’t play it in a showy manner. He is not one of the bug-eyed Silicon Valley salamanders of today, who try to turn themselves into cult leaders, oh no. He’s not in it for hookers and blow or phallic spaceships or siding with dictators.
He’s just a bottom line guy who doesn’t give a fuck about other people, any people, and especially enjoys ripping off the poor and disenfranchised, which is the American Dream, surely.
Get Rich from Other People Dyin’ could be the title of his album. Or think of the collabs, I don’t think Fifty Cent is that busy these days.
The end result of all these shenanigans are jaw-dropping, then there’s a cold dose of reality, but the ending is still surprising, and still unbelievable, for me. But it did happen, and some of these people were really happy with the result, and others, well, not so much.
This flick wants to be a courtroom drama, which admittedly is a dated format, but also worries that courtroom dramas are maybe a bit too boring if done realistically. So they have no trouble having people yell their dialogue or their testimony. Full marks to
Ah, the American court room: an amalgam of church, state and lottery. This flick captures a fair bit of truth and a fair bit of flimflammery, but it manages to do it in an entertaining fashion. Perhaps it’s a bit too long, but those slow scenes at the field, the cemetery without headstones, the burial grounds of slaves, it’s perhaps the first scene a cruel editor could cut, but it gives the flick its deeper thesis, being what histories are celebrated, however fictional, and what histories are buried because of convenience.
I thoroughly enjoyed the flick, flaws and all, and enjoyed almost every part of it except for having to look at poor Tommy Lee Jones. Lord, just let him rest, he shouldn’t need the work anymore.
8 times there is no justice without multi-million dollar payoffs out of 10
“What does it feel like to be some small-time nobody on the verge of bankruptcy?” – it feels pretty good once you get used to it - The Burial