Bernie (2012)

Starring: Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, Matthew McConaughey, Brady Coleman, Richard Robichaux, Rick Dial, Bradon Smith, Larry Jack Dotson, Merrilee McCommas, Matthew Greer.

Director: Richard Linklater
Rating: PG-13 (for some violent images and brief strong language.)
Running Time: 104 Minutes
Release Date: April 27, 2012
Home Video Release Date: August 21, 2012
North American Box Office: $9.2 Million

Wind Dancer Productions, Castle Rock Entertainment, Detour Filmproduction, Horsethief Pictures, Mandalay Vision, Deep Freeze Production, Collins House Productions, and Millennium Entertainment.

Written by: Richard Linklater and Skip Hollandsworth, based on Skip Hollandsworth’s article “Midnight In The Garden Of East Texas.”.
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(out of 5 stars)

There is a certain morose delight in watching Bernie, the big screen retelling of a bizarre true crime story involving a mortician’s assistant who consoles, befriends, caretakes for, and later murders a wealthy millionaire in the tiny town of Carthage, Texas.  Director Richard Linklater delivers a precocious and engaging film which not only captures a fantastic performance from Jack Black, but also provides alarming insight into small-town temperament and conformity.

Jack Black’s re-teaming with Linklater brings forth a performance from Black as good, if not better, than his star-making turn in School Of Rock.  Black quickly absorbs into the role of Bernie Tiede, a drifter who floats into tiny Carthage and wins the entire town over with almost literally a snap of his fingers.  There is seemingly nothing Bernie cannot do.  He is selfless and giving, has a knack for creating wonderfully enriching friendships with his warmth and kindness, and quickly finds himself a job working with the local funeral home.

Bernie soars with his charm and through his work in the community mortuary, becomes a treasured community icon.  When he befriends the recently widowed and extremely wealthy Marjorie (Shirley MacLaine), he is warned that she is one of the most difficult and unlikable people on the planet.  Bernie rallies to her defense, but over time becomes her confidante, butler, intermediary, chauffeur, personal assistant, roommate, partner of sorts, and 24/7 watchdog.  His eventual response to this suffocation is, as they often say, history after all.

Richard Linklater presents Bernie in a mockumentary style, utilizing the scenes with Black in a re-enactment style, with the more conventional “talking head” documentary approach for much of the remainder of the film.  While that is a gimmicky narrative trick, the approach works tremendously well, especially when Linklater incorporates real-life Carthage residents who knew Bernie alongside seasoned and tried actors.  Midway through the film, when a terrific Matthew McConaughey arrives as the local Carthage town District Attorney, the awesomely named Danny Buck Davidson, we are so invested in these characters and this community, McConaughey is completely unrecognizable for awhile.

Yes, the darker tone may alarm some people, but Bernie is as sinister as it is immersive, as enjoyable as it is shocking.  Certainly an overlooked gem from the first half of 2012.

SHOULD I SEE IT?
YES
  • Unique and biting, Bernie is a terrific film.
  • After toiling away in subpar big budget misfires, Jack Black finds the traits and talents that led to his becoming an A-list star.  On par with, if not better than, his performance in School Of Rock, Black is fantastic here.
  • Overcomes a tired approach, the mockumentary, and just wins across the board with excellent pacing and direction by Richard Linklater, as well as an amazing story and intriguing characters.
NO
  • So this is a true story about a man who murdered a woman.  For some, that will never be something worth making a film about, much less watching.
  • There have been those who have found the film to be flippant in lieu of the subject matter.
  • For those who like their characters cut and dry and easy to read, these characters are all over the map in terms of morality. This will make it hard for some people to get into the film.
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