The Burial: Jamie Foxx and Tommy Lee Jones buddy up for a fun 1990s courtroom throwback

Watching this energetic drama, it is almost hard to believe this is inspired by a true story

The Burial
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Director: Maggie Betts
Cert: None
Genre: Legal Drama
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Tommy Lee Jones, Jurnee Smollett, Alan Ruck, Mamoudou Athie, Pamela Reed, Bill Camp
Running Time: 2 hrs 8 mins

Phew. You’re going to need a fan and some smelling salts to counteract all the Jamie Foxx energy. Charging through corridors and courtrooms, genuine gold-rimmed glasses sparkling, Foxx’s Willie E Gary is a whirlwind, an African-American inversion of Jimmy Stewart’s Academy Award-nominated lawman in Anatomy of a Murder. Or possibly Hyper-Chicken in Futurama.

Watching this energetic 1990s-set courtroom drama – a film that feels like a carefully calibrated 90s throwback replete with 90s superstars Foxx and Tommy Lee Jones and an appearance by Chanel’s contemporaneous terry cloth jumper – it’s almost hard to believe this is inspired by a true story.

Based on a 1999 New Yorker article by Jonathan Harr, this David and Goliath riff pitches independent funeral home owner, Jeremiah “Jerry” O’Keefe (Jones), a second World War veteran with 13 adult children and many more grandchildren, against the Canada-based billionaire Ray Loewen (Bill Camp), owner of more than 700 funeral homes, 100 cemeteries and thousands of insurance plans across the United States.

O’Keefe’s Mississippi operation should have been just another acquisition; O’Keefe has other ideas.


Enter superfly personal injuries lawyer Gary, a man who has worked his way up from sharecropping origins to flash private-jet ownership. He’s never lost a case, but as O’Keefe’s long-standing legal representative (Alan Ruck) never tires of pointing out, he has no experience in contract law.

Gary’s slick style is met with fierce professionalism from Jurnee Smollett’s opposing bench; a scene in which the warring representatives watch Johnnie Cochran’s “If the glove don’t fit” defence on TV is perfection.

They make for one of several appealing duos; Tommy Lee Jones and Foxx – two genuine old-school movie stars – are such a magnetic odd couple, one wishes for a spin-off series in which they’d don costumes and solve crimes together.

The grander schemes of those who seek to monopolise elder care add weight. Mostly though, this is just tremendous fun.

Tara Brady

Tara Brady

Tara Brady, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a writer and film critic