- User Rating: Excellent
Bang For The Buck
Pros:Jack Black at his best, amazing storytelling
Cons:Matthew McConaughey is particularly unimpressive
The Bottom Line: Other than McConaughey's performance, Bernie is nearly a flawless film
There are a surprising number of films that I find myself seeing without any previous knowledge about beforehand. In the case of Bernie, I was planning on seeing another film at the AFI Theatre in Silver Spring, MD and missed my showtime by a few minutes. Not wanting to consider the afternoon a waste, my brother and I decided to see the next film that was available. What I was presented with was one of the oddest and most remarkably interesting films I’ve seen in 2012…
The film stars Jack Black as Bernie Tiede, an assistant funeral director in a small Texas town of Carthage. Bernie is friendly, good natured, generous to a fault, and generally beloved by all in town. In fact, when the crotchety old Marjorie Nugent (played by Shirley MacLaine) has her husband pass away on her, Bernie is the only person in town willing to show her a kind word or a helping hand. Ms. Nugent finds herself so drawn to the welcoming Bernie that they become the best of friends, with Bernie benefitting in the way of fancy trips, fine dining and even flying lessons. In return, Ms. Nugent makes Bernie responsible for all her medical and financial matters, essentially making him her personal servant. It is a relationship that quickly sours, however, with Marjorie’s terrible nature ultimately leading to tragedy.
Months later, after no one has seen or heard from Ms. Nugent, local District Attorney Danny Buck Davidson (played by Matthew McConaughey) begins poking around to find out what happened. Bernie, who has been using Marjorie’s money to help many of those in need in the community, is finally discovered to have shot the woman in the back four times and stuffed her into a freezer in her own garage. More surprisingly than the fact that no one noticed that she was gone, however, is that no one seems to mind that Bernie killed her…
The film is hard to describe as the plot itself is based on a true story. Director Richard Linklater includes interviews from several real life residents of Carthage throughout the movie to explain the action that is occurring as the fictionalized re-enactment of the story is taking place around it. It is a strange technique to be sure, as it almost combines aspects of a documentary with a true crime film, but it seems to work with the actors involved, especially with the uniqueness of the events themselves.
What makes the film work so well is the acting of Black, who puts on one of the best performances of his career here as Bernie. Black, not one of my favorite actors by any stretch of the imagination, does his some of his best work here by playing it straight (relatively speaking), absorbing the role of Bernie Tiede rather than trying to ham it up like he does so often on screen. He also shows he is a surprisingly talented singer on several gospel songs throughout the film. It is the first time I’ve ever seen a film where there were moments I actually forgot I was watching Jack Black on screen.
The same couldn’t be said about Matthew McConaughey, who I found to be the one weak link in the film. In a film where subtlety and respect for the topic at hand are par for the course, his over-the-top performance is the one noticeable flaw in an otherwise remarkable film. Too often he tries to make a big splash for a laugh when the film doesn’t call for it. Black and MacLaine realize that the subject matter and Linklater’s handling of it with the resident interviews are funny enough, while apparently McConaughey just didn’t get the memo.
Overall, I thought the film was very good in its ambiguity. Walking away from the movie theatre, I was surprised how many questions had been left unanswered by the film. Did Bernie go after Ms. Nugent for her money from the start, or were his intentions more pure than that? What kind of relationship did they really have? Was Bernie actually gay? Linklater leaves this information and more to the imagination, only giving the viewer enough to leave you asking for more. What you are left with is an interesting piece of filmmaking that stays with you long after you leave the movie theatre…a rare feat nowadays. 3.5 out of 4 stars
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Movie Mood: Funny Movie
Viewing Method: Other
Film Completeness: Looked complete to me.
Worst Part of this Film: Nothing