As funeral home owner Jeremiah (Jerry) O’Keefe (Jones) celebrates his 75th birthday with friends and family, he reflects on what he has built and the hopes of leaving something for his children. But, as he soon finds out, some things aren’t as simple as black and white.
Based on real events, “The Burial” tells the familiar story of David vs Goliath combined with corporate greed and corruption, all told with a shade of racial injustice.
When financial matters go from bad to worse in his company, Jerry is approached by Ray Loewen (Bill Camp), a businessman who is slowly gaining a monopoly on funeral homes by buying up many of the mom-and-pop parlors in smaller towns. Things seem to be on the up and up, but when Jerry doesn’t get paid he is told that, while a deal was in place, no contract was in place. Jerry realizes that, facing the financial issues he’s dealing with, Loewen can wait him out and then get what he wants for a song. With the help of his long time attorney (Alan Ruck), Jerry seeks out the help of the flamboyant – and very successful – Willie Gary (Foxx), a personal injury lawyer whose courtroom manner is a little, well, unorthodox. As the trial proceeds, and the arguments become more personal, we are reminded again that things are never as simple as black and white.
Buoyed by strong performances by Foxx and Jones (both former Oscar winners), the film is full of strong performances. Ruck, who thirty-seven years ago played Cameron in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” is strong as Jerry’s long time friend and attorney who must put aside his ego as Gary and his team begin to take over the case. Camp is the perfect villain while Amanda Warren excels as Willie’s loving wife, Gloria, Also strong is Ms. Smollett, who is the leader of Loewen’s defense team. She is a no-nonsense attorney who isn’t above bringing racial issues before a small, southern jury. Questions are asked and answers given, helping fuel each side’s narrative of the case. Nothing, from the on-going O.J. Simpson trial to family heritage, is off-limits, with both sides feeding on public perception. I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that it was nearly five years ago that Ms. Smollett’s brother, Jussie, staged an attack on himself, which fueled racial fires for months afterwards. Again, nothing is as simple as black and white.