Is The Burial based on a true story? Origins of the courtroom drama

 Tommy Lee Jones and Jamie Foxx sat on a staircase in The Burial.
Tommy Lee Jones and Jamie Foxx sat on a staircase in The Burial.

A new movie starring Academy Award winners Jamie Foxx and Tommy Lee Jones has left viewers wondering if The Burial is a true story. 

This courtroom drama is as entertaining as it is thought-provoking, and tells the oh-so-satisfying tale of a huge corporation brought to its knees by a family-run business. First released in select cinemas on October 6, the new movie is now arriving on streaming service Prime Video, and eager viewers have questions about the origins of the story.

Much like TV fans want to know more about the making of Apple TV's Lessons in Chemistry and Netflix's The Fall of the House of Usher - while fellow Prime subscribers want to know the true story of Everybody Loves Diamonds - the same is being asked of The Burial. Here's what we know about the real court case that inspired the movie. 

Is The Burial based on a true story?

The Burial is inspired by the true story of a 1995 court case between Jeremiah 'Jerry' O'Keefe, who owned eight funeral homes in Mississippi, and the Loewen Group, who bought a funeral home from Jerry and began selling their own insurance policies - despite having agreed to sell those from Jerry's company.

Jerry sued the Loewen Group, which owned more than 700 funeral homes and over 100 cemeteries in the United States, and a settlement was reached. However, evidence showed that the Loewen Group never honoured the settlement, so Jerry hired attorney Willie Gary to help.

Willie initially proposed a settlement amount of $125 million, but the Loewen Group refused to pay and the dispute went to court, where the jury ruled in favour of Jerry, awarding him $500 million in damages.

The true story that inspired The Burial was the subject of a New Yorker article by Jonathan Harr, published with the same title in 1999. The article explains how Gary rose from poverty to become a self-made attorney, having accumulated nearly 60 settlements or verdicts of a million dollars or more by 1996.

It goes on to reveal that the Loewen Group eventually went bankrupt, and Jerry went on to purchase Loewen assets in Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana - using the money obtained in his lawsuit against company owner Ray Loewen.

What is The Burial about?

The Burial follows funeral home owner Jeremiah 'Jerry' O’Keefe, who wins a lawsuit against a corporate competitor that was threatening to put him out of business, while also exploring issues in the 'death care' industry.

When the Loewen Group don't follow through with the terms of the contract they signed with Jerry, he teams up with flashy personal injury lawyer Willie Gary, who hasn’t lost a case in over a decade.

Jerry and Willie are polar opposites on the surface. But their dogged pursuit of justice helps them bond and find common ground over time, as they expose corporate corruption and racial injustice.

The Prime Video synopsis reads: "When a handshake deal goes sour, funeral homeowner Jeremiah O’Keefe enlists charismatic, smooth-talking attorney Willie E. Gary to save his family business. Tempers flare and laughter ensues as the unlikely pair bond while exposing corporate corruption and racial injustice in this inspirational, triumphant story."

Jurnee Smollett and Jamie Foxx in the courtroom in The Burial
Jurnee Smollett and Jamie Foxx in the courtroom in The Burial

The Burial cast

  • Jamie Foxx as Willie E. Gary (They Cloned Tyrone, Strays, Django Unchained)

  • Tommy Lee Jones as Jerry O'Keefe (The Fugitive, Men in Black, Captain America)

  • Amanda Warren as Gloria Gary (The Leftovers, Dickinson)

  • Pamela Reed as Annette O'Keefe (Kindergarten Cop, Parks and Recreation)

  • Alan Ruck as Mike Allred (Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Succession)

  • Jurnee Smollett as Mame Downes (Lovecraft Country, Birds of Prey)

  • Mamoudou Athie as Hal Dockins (Elemental, Archive 81)

  • Bill Camp as Ray Loewen (The Queen's Gambit, Joker, Molly's Game)

  • Dorian Missick as Reggie Douglas (Six Degrees)

Speaking about working with Jamie Foxx, Tommy Lee Jones said, "I had a lot of fun working with Jamie. He’s fun to be around and every workday was highly energised. We did a lot of laughing and some pretty good work got done, too."

Meanwhile, Jamie Foxx said of his co-star, "I used to do a joke on stage about Tommy Lee Jones where I would literally just say lines from The Fugitive, and he sounds exactly like that! Being on set with him, you could just feel his legendary presence. He’s so special for the role of Jeremiah."

Director Maggie Betts, who also co-wrote the screenplay for The Burial, said Jones and Foxx’s fast friendship behind the scenes made their on-screen chemistry even stronger.

"Watching Tommy and Jamie play off each other was a joy," she said. "They could not be more different, both in terms of the characters they play as well as who they are in ‘real-life.’ Still, they seemed to have such a natural affinity for each other, which is really touching in the way it comes through in the film."

A collage of Jamie Foxx (left) and Tommy Lee Jones (right)
A collage of Jamie Foxx (left) and Tommy Lee Jones (right)

How to watch The Burial

The Burial premiered in select theatres on October 6 and lands on Prime Video on October 13. Prime members will be able to watch The Burial via the Prime Video app available for smart TVs and mobile devices or on

For those not already subscribed to Prime Video, you can sign up by visiting the website. Amazon offers a 30-day free trial, after which the streaming service costs £8.99 per month.

For more TV show origins, the Love & Death true story had many baffled that the lead character apparently got away with murder, while the real life cases behind Burning Body are equally as shocking. The Woman in The Wall was a work of fiction, but the horrific true story behind the institutions that inspired it, leave a haunting legacy.