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Legal drama starring Jamie Foxx and Tommy Lee Jones

“I only object to the fact that he was angry, your honor!” This is one of the funniest lines Jamie Foxx has ever delivered in “The Burial,” the courtroom drama based on a true case from the 1990s.

Jerry O’Keefe (Tommy Lee Jones) owns a chain of funeral homes in Mississippi, and the 75-year-old patriarch – well-mannered and soft-spoken but with a backbone of steel – has one goal: to leave a legacy for the world. Family business owned by 13 children. There is no mention of whether any of these exist request running the business after he’s gone, but it doesn’t matter.

O’Keefe also sells funeral insurance – that’s the real moneymaker – which means he has to have a certain amount of cash on hand. He doesn’t. And state regulators are trying to shut it down before that happens. To raise the money, he agreed to sell three of his eight funeral homes to the Loewen Group, a large corporation that wanted to monopolize the industry. Loewen’s yacht-owning CEO (a very self-satisfied Bill Camp) speaks openly about how much he stands to gain from the coming “golden age of death” as baby boomers enter their final years.

Silently horrified, Jerry is in no position to object. That’s why they’re rocking it.

However, even though months have passed, the agreement has not been finalized yet. The Loewen Group continues to linger.

One of O’Keefe’s lawyers (Mamoudou Athie, matching Jones’ quiet, thoughtful energy) suspects that Loewen actually has no plans to proceed with the deal, but intends to drag things out until O’Keefe goes bankrupt and the company makes it through. It collects its assets at affordable prices. O’Keefe then files a lawsuit.

Foxx plays O’Keefe’s unlikely champion, Willie E. Gary. He is a dashing personal injury attorney who obtains multimillion-dollar verdicts on behalf of his clients. Especially black customers. That’s who he’s focused on representing, and is just one reason for his reluctance to take on O’Keefe’s cause. Contract dispute? It’s not his area of ​​expertise. But he was finally convinced.

It’s worth pausing to describe how Willie is introduced as he wraps up a hearing where his client was hit by a truck. He wants 75 million dollars. Why so much? “Because we have the evidence. The evidence will show that there was negligence. Because the good-for-nothing Clovis had a good thing going for him back then, even though he was drunk, depressed, depressed, and suicidal. My good-for-nothing client, Clovis Tubbs, gave him green The light turned on. I said what I would say.” The courtroom erupts with applause!

It’s a laughable moment, but not a bad stylistic choice, considering this is a guy with a private jet he calls the Wings of Justice. I wish director Maggie Betts (who shared screenwriting with Doug Wright) had more of this energy.

Tonal inconsistencies – huge and camp one moment, dead serious the next – tend to undermine the cast’s terrific performances; This includes Alan Ruck as the white lawyer on O’Keefe’s team (a kind of daring Dixie blue blood). will suffer silently when his racism is pointed out to him) and Jurnee Smollett as the highly successful opposing lawyer who gives Willie a run for his money. When it comes to trial, one of Willie’s co-workers sums up their rivalry: “We got away with being both darkened and feminine in one go.”

From left to right: Jurnee Smollett and Jamie Foxx opposing attorneys "To bury."

I love a good paperwork movie. “Funeral” is not like that. Although everything has turned into a circus, legal maneuvers are not handled with patience and care. Self-aware and boisterous from the start, Willie quickly finds himself facing some frightening challenges until the team finds evidence that the Loewen Group’s business practices are often based on the exploitation of poor Black people. But Willie & Co. The film never fully embraces such beats and story tropes, even when saving a case from the brink of disaster! – what legal dramas are built on. Strangely, we don’t even hear closing arguments.

There are far more interesting ways to go about a proven genre than “The Burial,” but I’m almost shocked this was made. Hollywood is instead more interested in greenlighting stories that humanize wealthy power players, told from the perspective of the Loewen Group and its CEO, who pays careful attention to their traumas to better understand their cold-blooded opportunism, with little interest in the Jerrys of the world. . But stories like “The Funeral” have a way of re-centering our moral axis, and they have a meaningful subliminal effect when you look around and consider why things are set up to benefit the few at the expense of the many.

Big companies don’t always win. Sometimes the stubborn belief in fair play and the willingness to fight for it actually pays off.

“The Grave” — 2 stars (out of 4)

Where to watch: Amazon

Jamie Foxx as Willie E. Gary "To bury."

Nina Metz is a Tribune critic.

nmetz@chicagotribune.com

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