The Burial (dir. Maggie Betts)
By: Adam Freed
The courtroom has long been the ideal showcase for superstar actors and the courtroom drama the ideal forum to harness their many talents. In 1982 an aging Paul Newman unleashed a delicate and deep portrait of a struggling everyman attorney in what can be argued to have been his best performance in The Verdict. A decade later Tom Cruise electrified audiences in the Academy Award winning A Few Good Men (1992). From Gregory Peck’s Atticus Finch to Matthew McConaughey’s career launching Jake Brigance, the screen attorney is as vital a movie archetype as can exist in film history. With this lineage in mind, immense credit to writer and director Maggie Betts for her Prime Video legal drama The Burial. Betts, clearly privy to the successful formula, delivers the story of a charismatic character within the framework of an infinitely entertaining film. The only question for Maggie Betts, given the strength of her story, was finding a leading man up to the challenge. With the help of an Amazon sized budget, Betts attracted not one, but two Oscar winners to power her compelling story.
Jamie Foxx (Ray, Django Unchained) absolutely chews up pages of dialogue in his role as premiere personal injury attorney Willie Gary. Gary’s brash self confidence, fueled by his perfect trial record and subsequent wealth, is absorbed to perfection by Foxx’s loquacious and flamboyant acting persona. Rarely does the connection between character and actor appear this seamless. Foxx, who was awarded Best Actor for Ray (2004) is in peak form as he packages Gary as a brash and simultaneously sensitive lead who is the beneficiary of a gift to connect and find the best in humanity, rather than exploit it for his personal gain. Providing balance to Foxx’s memorable work is reliable Oscar winner Tommy Lee Jones (The Fugitive, No Country for Old Men). Jones’ Jerry O’Keefe, is a financially embattled funeral home owner, desperate to preserve a business legacy to leave to his children. Foxx and Jones prove to be an emotional match made in heaven as they allow space for one another to work yet share a mutual relationship that is given the latitude to grow throughout The Burial.
There may be legal scholars who raise an eyebrow or two at some of the more conveniently placed courtroom events within the film, but for the audiences who never attempted the LSAT, the enjoyment of a good old fashioned story of the American legal system at work, performed at a high level should be enough to spark warm responses. The welcome changeup that The Burial offers is morphing an acquisition contract dispute into a social commentary about racial and social class warfare in the American south. Framing the true story of O’Keefe v. Loewen Group Inc. as a 90’s era period piece dripping in social justice messaging works on almost every level. Somewhere around the dawn of the 21st century Hollywood slowed production of legal dramas to a crawl. Credit to Amazon, Tommy Lee Jones, Jamie Foxx and the commendable direction of Maggie Betts for delivering one of the better streaming films of the year.
Target Score: 7/10 - Jamie Foxx elevates the streaming legal drama with his flamboyant and heartfelt performance. The Burial rises above competitors on the strength of performances by Foxx and the raw nerve emotion of an aging Tommy Lee Jones. Maggie Betts proves to be the right director at the right time for Amazon’s sure fire streaming hit.