[Review] – Bernie

13 May

Title: Bernie
Year: 2012
Director: Richard Linklater
Writers: Richard Linklater and Skip Hollandsworth
Starring: Jack Black, Matthew McConaughey, Shirley MacLaine
MPAA Rating: PG-13, some violent images and brief strong language
Runtime: 104 min
IMDb Rating: 6.4
Rotten Tomatoes: 85%
Metacritic: 74

Richard Linklater is a director who I really like and whose work I truly respect. And while all I really want from him is to get back together with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy to give us a third entry in their Before Sunrise films, if what he’s going to be doing in the interim is to give us films as solid as his new one, Bernie, is, then I’m good with that, too. I wasn’t expecting such a good film to come out of this crazy real-life tale, but Mr. Linklater really knows how to approach the story, and it helps that he has Jack Black on board in the titular role delivering one of the finest performances of his career.

That titular role is that of Bernie Tiede, the local mortician in the small town of Carthage, Texas, who was one of the most beloved citizens around because of his absolutely willingness to always lend his neighbors a helping hand with tremendous ease. And one day Bernie befriended a woman with the total opposite attitude of his, Marjorie Nugent, a super wealthy widow with a sour outlook on the world. Yet they became great friends, and Nugent eventually trusted Bernie with everything in her life. Until her increasing demands one day became enough, and even though Bernie still ran her errands around town, the wealthy widow wasn’t actually seen around.

That’s right, Bernie had killed old Marjorie Nugent, and tried to make it seem as though she was still alive until he was investigated and the truth came out. He had shot her four times in the back, and then admitted to having done so, putting an end to their five-year companionship in which he had gained the trust of the bitter old lady and managed to wiggle his way into her will as the sole benefactor to her fortune. The real Bernie Tiede is, obviously, serving life in prison. After all, he had the motives and the police had the evidence and the confession.

What’s awesome, and true in real-life, is the fact that, when asked about the case, the actual citizens of Carthage ran to Bernie’s defense. To the point in which the actual case had to be tried in a separate town because the district attorney was sure a jury of Carthage would never sentence their beloved Bernie to life imprisonment. They just didn’t believe he’d done it for the most part, and even those that saw that the proof was all there still said that old and sour Marjorie Nugent had it coming. Bernie was just the nicest guy ever, you see, people couldn’t see him committing a murder, and they’d try and justify his actions before giving into those claims.

That’s what the film focusses on. I mean there’s obviously this crime going on, but that’s just there to shape the story and not to provide it, because Mr. Linklater focusses not on the macabre murder that happened, but instead on the love this whole entire town had for this man and how they just wouldn’t accept facts because of it. And I loved that approach, I really did, I loved it because this film really gets you into that small Texas town in the nineties, and you feel like you’re actually there eavesdropping on the neighborhood conversations, mostly because Mr. Linklater uses fake “documentary” style interviews with people who knew Bernie and Nugent to quench our curiosity for this strange situation.

Then there’s Jack Black. He’s a talent that needs a very precise kind of surrounding to be good, or else he’s just plain bad, or even worse he gets to be super annoying. Mr. Linklater of course is the man responsible for having given Mr. Black the film that suits all of his talents, comical and musical, the very best in 2003’s School of Rock, and here he’s at it again, somehow knowing that Mr. Black would be the perfect Bernie; and trust me when I tell you we’ve seen nothing like this from Jack Black before. He just erases any sort of conception you may have had about Jack Black previously and creates this character out of the blue ever so perfectly, showing us a new side to himself that he probably didn’t even knew was in him. It’s a truly brilliant performance.

Mr. Black plays Bernie in a way that really allows us to see what his fellow townspeople in Carthage saw and loved so much about the man. He creates a guy that’s just insanely likable, one who would always be there to help you out and who taught Sunday school and sang at church. When pitted against Shirley MacLaine‘s Nugent it all plays out wonderfully; her resisting Bernie’s charms at first though obviously then falling to them, and he trying to be nice to her too but eventually snapping after having had too much. Then there’s Matthew McConaughey doing a really nice job as the aforementioned district attorney, and he’s an actor who I didn’t care for much before but who now seems to be getting roles that really suit his talents, and I’m damn happy about that.

It’s a super relaxed film but I actually think that’s okay. This is, after all, a true case, a murder that actually happened, and I’ve read that some people from Carthage are kind of annoyed at this film, so maybe making it much more of a satire may have been too much. This film, by focussing so much on the perspective of the townspeople more than on that of the people, and by making their jokes out the conviction these people had that Bernie hadn’t committed the crime, makes the whole thing strike a really nice balance tonally. And then there’s Jack Black and that performance; this film is worth watching for that alone.

Grade: A-


One Response to “[Review] – Bernie”

  1. AndyWatchesMovies May 14, 2012 at 10:00 am #

    This is a film I greatly look forward to watching but I’m concerned it won’t play in a convenient theater.

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