Sunday, July 21, 2024

“The Burial”: A Triumph of Performances and Powerful Storytelling

The Burial
Jamie Foxx as Willie Gary in The Burial Photo: Skip Bolen © AMAZON CONTENT SERVICES LLC

Where to Watch: In theaters

Release Date: October 13th

Rated: R

Run Time: 126 mins

Starring: Jamie Foxx, Tommy Lee Jones, Jurnee Smollett, Mamoudou Athie, and Dorian Missick

Synopsis: In the year 1995, Willie E. Gary, an unorthodox yet highly successful personal injury attorney, lends his legal prowess to support Jeremiah Joseph O’Keefe, a financially beleaguered funeral home proprietor. Together, they embark on a legal battle against the formidable Loewen Group (a competing major funeral home corporation) in pursuit of justice over a contractual disagreement.

Toni Morrison once said, “I get angry about things, then go on and work”. This quote embodies all that makes up the movie The Burial. It’s a compelling and heartfelt court drama based on a true story. It unfolds against the backdrop of a legal battle led by attorney Willie E. Gary (played by Jamie Foxx) for his client Jeremiah O’Keefe (played by Tommy Lee Jones) against a multi-million dollar funeral company, Loewen Group. Jeremiah seeks the services of Willie when an agreement with Loewen goes sour after a deal sealed with a handshake. 

Foxx takes the lead with an incredible performance, while the supporting cast helps to enrich the overall quality of the film. Foxx’s character development and connection with Lee are standout aspects. If I were to draw a comparison, it’s akin to a Wu-Tang album in which each member gets their moment to shine, resulting in an entertaining and successful product (my fellow 90s kids will get that reference). Let’s delve deeper into the dynamics of this film.

Jamie Foxx’s Range and Charm

Foxx, renowned for his exceptional versatility as an actor and comedian, once again showcases his remarkable range in The Burial. Throughout the film, he effortlessly transitions between humor and charm, eliciting both laughter and poignancy through emotional tones. His magnetic on-screen presence stands as a testament to his captivating prowess. Initially, it appeared to me that his character would maintain a colorful and arrogant persona throughout the entire film, but then there are sad moments where Willie reveals vulnerability, a facet Foxx masterfully taps into without any hesitation. What I was really impressed with was his chemistry on screen with Lee and the other supporting actors. He is like a chameleon; when around his crew, he is fun-loving and loud; when with Lee or Amanda Warren (who plays Willie’s wife, Gloria), he is successfully able to match the mood…like I said, a true chameleon.  

Tommy Lee Jones as Jeremiah O’Keefe and Jamie Foxx as Willie Gary in The Burial. Photo: Skip Bolen © AMAZON CONTENT SERVICES LLC

Tommy Lee Jones: The Essence of a Quiet, Loyal Man

While Foxx dazzles with his humor and charisma, Jones as Jeremiah O’Keefe embodies the persona of a quiet, loyal man of good character. Jones captured the essence of a man who stands steadfast in his convictions. One almost can’t help but become genuinely invested and root for O’Keefe. His moments on screen bring a sense of seriousness and depth to the narrative; however, at times, he is genuinely adorable in his portrayal. I can recall a few men I have met who have the same personality and beliefs as O’Keefe, so, at least for me, this character was relatable. 

Gralen Bryant Banks as Walter Bell, Doug Spearman as Richard Mayfield, and Jurnee Smollett as Mame Downes in The Burial Photo: Courtesy of Amazon Prime © AMAZON CONTENT SERVICES LLC

Jurnee Smollett’s Commanding Presence

Jurnee Smollett, known for her captivating performances in series like Lovecraft Country and Underground, continues to impress with her commanding presence in The Burial. As the opposite lead lawyer, Mame Downes portrays a character who exudes intelligence, wit, and a fierce determination to prevail. Smollett’s portrayal of a strong Black woman owning the courtroom is inspiring and brought me to a place where I wanted to root for her as well. A Black female Harvard-graduate leading a big time case…come on now! You can’t root against that, or at least I couldn’t. It was fun seeing the back-and-forth between her and Foxx. 

Mamoudou Athie’s Commanding Performance

Mamoudou Athie has been a standout Black actor in recent years for me, and to no surprise shines in The Burial. In his role as a young Black lawyer (Hal Dockins) assisting with the case, he brings a uniqueness to the character. Athie’s ability to showcase someone who is confident in his knowledge of the law, but lacks experience, kept me more engaged with this relatable character. During the course of the film, I felt myself rooting for him and his success, that’s how invested I was in the character. 

Dorian Missick as Reggie Douglas, Jamie Foxx as WIllie Gary, and Mamoudou Athie as Hal Dockins in The Burial Photo: Skip Bolen © AMAZON CONTENT SERVICES LLC

Missick and the Morris Day Vibes

Dorian Missick as Reggie Douglas didn’t have much screen time in this film, but his limited time was both hilarious and memorable. Once his character Reggie was introduced on screen with Willie, it felt like I was watching Morris Day and Jerome from the 80s cult classic Purple Rain. There was a hilarious sort of tandem between them that had me doubled over laughing in my seat. I’ve seen Missick in other roles, but this just might be my favorite. 

It’s on Prime, but The In Theater Experience is Better

I had the privilege of watching The Burial with a live audience at the University of District of Columbia, which added an extra layer of enjoyment to the film experience. The crowd’s cheers, laughter, and collective reactions enhanced the viewing experience. I recommend that if you don’t see it in theaters, you should at least watch it with a group of people in order to experience the shared emotions of the jurors and witnesses in the courtroom.

Alan Ruck as Mike Allred and Jamie Foxx as Willie Gary in THE BURIAL. Photo: Skip Bolen © AMAZON CONTENT SERVICES LLC

Celebrating Black Excellence

The Burial deserves commendation for celebrating Black excellence, not only through its talented cast but also by portraying the strength and intelligence of Black characters in positions of importance. The film is more than just a courtroom drama; it’s a fun film that allows the opportunity to see non-monolithic Black characters take center stage and show how the underrepresented can work together against the opposition. It also showcases that with great work and unification, people can get major things done. 


The Burial is a triumph of performances, chemistry, and powerful storytelling. Jamie Foxx and Tommy Lee Jones deliver standout portrayals that balance humor and gravitas while the entire ensemble shines in their respective roles. The film’s examination of justice, camaraderie, and the resilience of its characters will strike a chord with viewers. 

The soundtrack will make you dance with vintage tunes like Tony Toni Tone’s “It Feels Good”. The costume design transported me back in time to the 90’s and reminded me of how my parents would dress up for family functions. I hope this film gives Foxx a push toward more nominations this award season. Foxx’s longstanding and undeniable talent is more than worthy of such recognition. You will see why in The Burial streaming this Friday, October 13th, on Prime.

Dapper Dr Feel

Felipe Patterson aka Dapper Dr. Feel, #BlackLoveConvo & Entertainment | @fdapperdr Dapper Dr. Feel is a Entertainment journalist and member of the Critics Choice Association and African American Film Association.

One thought on ““The Burial”: A Triumph of Performances and Powerful Storytelling

  • Winifred

    Great review. All the characters were spectacular. I love how you broke it down.


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