The Burial (2023) Ending Explained: What is the significance of Willie Gary’s gesture?

The Burial is an original Amazon Studios film that recounts one of America’s most infamous legal trials. Jamie Foxx and Tommy Lee Jones play real-life figures William Gary and Jerry O’Keefe who together took down the Loewen Group back in the 1990s.

The film is a legal drama that works in parts but ultimately succumbs to the generosity of its ambitions beyond script and narrative. It has all the expected genre beats that will involve you as a viewer to care for the characters and their legal conceits.

The film allows you to connect with the emotions that drive the story forward. Somewhere along the way, though, it becomes problematic as the suspension of disbelief scales new heights. However, we do recommend The Burial to our readers for its rousing mass appeal and compelling performances. In this piece, we explain The Burial’s ending and its plot with a brief mention of the real-life events that the film is inspired by. 


The Burial Plot Summary

The courtroom drama begins with a stellar introduction for its class-apart protagonist, William Gary. He is a top-notch lawyer mostly dealing with personal injury cases. Both in the court and out of it, Gary sets a standard that is difficult to replicate. He is squarely unique in his approach to practicing the law and living his life uncompromisingly. Despite coming from a humble background, Gary never let his disadvantages affect him and shows inspiring perseverance and resilience to carve his own path.


Why does Jerry approach Willie Gary?

Gary’s fortunes cross with that of Jerry O’Keefe, who falls on a completely different end of the spectrum. The 75-year-old lives a quiet life in Biloxi, Mississippi as the owner of some eight funeral homes, a solid burial insurance business, and the head of the O’Keefe family. He has fathered 13 children with his wonderful wife, Annette and now wants to leave them a legacy to carry forward, like his father did for him. But Jerry has run into troubles – financial and regulatory.

Funeral homeowners in the state are required to keep a certain amount of funds in their accounts at all times. Failing this, the regulatory office is empowered to cancel or suspend their license. And that is exactly what happens to Jerry. He faces an exacting dilemma but eventually chooses what’s best for his family. 

His long-standing friend and lawyer, Mike Allred, brings him an offer. Ray Lowen, chairman of his namesake group, offers to help Jerry out of this hole. The Loewen Group has a pan-US presence and is the largest chain of funeral homes in the entire region. Ray invites Jerry, Mike, and Jerry’s young legal advisor, Hal, to discuss a deal. He agrees to buy three of Jerry’s homes and also agrees to Jerry’s demands of not carrying out the burial insurance business in South Mississippi.


Why does Gary agree to take Jerry’s case?

Despite the customary handshake, Ray does not countersign the contract and waits it out. Hal thinks it is a clear tactic to ensure Jerry files for bankruptcy so Ray can get all his homes at a much cheaper rate. Seeing reason in his argument, Jerry approaches Willie to take his case. Even though he doesn’t deal in contract law and Willie refuses to take the case at first, Hal’s encouragement and presentation of the case’s potential significance draws him in.

Willie has enough money to last him a lifetime. His practice in personal injury law is almost untouchable. But Willie is an individual who always aims higher. He wants prestige and nationwide recognition for being the best in the business – akin to the likes of John Cochran. Gary sees this as an opportunity to leave his mark in the legal field like few practitioners before him. 

He ends up taking the case and meets with Mike and his team to discuss strategy. Mike is revolted when he learns that he won’t be the lead attorney on the case. Jerry convinces him to work with Willie and his team, even if they might be a tad arrogant and difficult to work with.

Ray is advised to hire a predominantly Black legal team, i.e., one that is comprised of people of color. He understands that Willie has not just been hired for his spotless track record – 12 years without a case lost – but also because Hinds County, where the suit is filed, has a 70% African-American population.


What prompts Jerry to remove Willie as lead attorney?

The battle is one of equals. Owing to his huge financial resources, Ray puts together a real “Dream team” of lawyers, headed by the mercurial Mame Downes. The hearings start off on an equal footing, with both sides presenting compelling arguments. There is infighting as well in Jerry’s corner as Willie and Mike want to follow different strategies. The former wants to woo the jury by not focusing too much on establishing the existence and breach of a legal contract while Mike wants to do exactly that. The clash of styles goes in Willi’s favor as he is the lead attorney. 

To spruce things up, he puts an ill-prepared Jerry on the stand. Once he is on the witness list, he is eligible for cross-examination and that is where Mame gets to him. She points out how Jerry put his clients’ money at risk by giving it to a person who is now a convicted felon. He is eviscerated in court and subsequently, Jerry relieves Willie as the lead attorney. He became too reckless and self-centered, putting the case at risk. 

Mike takes over and he is a completely different breed. He isn’t able to match Mame’s fiery personality and style in court but does establish a lot of fundamentally good points. Mame and her team choose to follow a similar strategy by character-assassinating him. Mike’s grandfather was a member of the KKK, which Mame brings up in court. They gradually start to lose the battle until Hal comes up with a genius discovery. 

He might be young and not ready to plead yet in court, but Hal’s discovery work is top-notch as he brings Loretta McGrath as a witness to testify against Loewen’s shady business practices. However, all the potential is drained out as the team does not have a clear strategy. 


Ending Explained: 

What swings the case in Jerry O’Keefe’s favor?

Some more weeks pass by as Jerry finally gives up hope. He understands that his case is quite weak now and that all his gambles will hurt his family big time. He goes to Willie, personally, to tell him about his decision. Just then, Hal comes up with a hidden file that will solve all their problems. Going through the files, Hal discovers with the help of Patrick that the Loewen Group had a deal with the National Baptist Convention, one of the largest Black churches in the country.

Under the guise of promising employment and financial stability, Loewen got them to agree to handle all the deaths in their church. This gave them an opportunity to exploit the poor community, many of whom suffered immense, unspeakable pains as a result. Willie and Jerry are moved when they learn that a lot of community members were not able to give their loved ones a respectable send-off and were exploited to their last buck by the Loewen Group.

Willie handles the case like a true professional and crusader of justice. He puts Ray on the stand and gets him to confess what he did with the NBC. Ray faces public humiliation and is livid at what this has done to his reputation. He tries to offer Jerry an out-of-court settlement which is close to the $100 million amount they are seeking. It is enough to last his entire family generations, but Jerry turns it down, confident that he will win the case. And he is bang on with his gamble. The jury ends up warding the amount they prayed for and an additional $400 million in punitive damages.

What is the significance of Jamie Foxx’s final bow?

The amount is so vast that this could potentially put the Loewen group out of business, which it does later on. Eventually, as it is revealed, Jerry settled for $175 million and Loewen was forced to resign from his position the next year. The Group had to file for bankruptcy and Jerry established many philanthropic endeavors to help underprivileged communities, most of them African American. Willie went on to make his mark and fought several famous cases. 

Jamie Foxx’s final bow to the singular tree and the burial yard with no head mounds is an allegorical recognition of the many injustices that the current generation’s ancestors had to face. Racial dynamics are an important part of the film and play a huge role in shaping the courtroom action. Mames even asks Mike this at one point during a cross-examination, although he says no. But Willie’s character embodies the persistence in their efforts to overcome their sufferings and hardships. 

 

Read More: The Burial Review


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