May 28, 2012

Movie Review: Bernie

Bernie is a curiosity of a movie. It is a quiet, sedate one that tells an unbelievable but true story. It left me intrigued by the situation but without many real strong feelings about it. The screenplay was co-written by Skip Hollandsworth based on an article that he wrote about the 1996 murder of an 81-year old woman by her much younger companion. The movie doesn't really do too deeply, instead it looks at it from a distance presenting many of the facts of the case. It is more interested in presenting the odd case than it is with making judgments.

The titular Bernie is Bernhardt Tiede, played by Jack Black. He is a man with a certain set of skills, skills that he uses to great effect. Bernie talks himself into a job as a funeral director in Carthage, TX, by pretty much being himself. He is a nice man, a good Christian who does charitable work around the town, is involved in civic activities, and is liked by everybody. We first meet him as he guest lectures a class on preparing a body for a viewing. Certainly is strange sight, but a fitting introduction to the man.

The movie is told through a series of interview clips and flashbacks. We learn just how well liked Bernie was, as well as how no one really knew all that much about him outside of his public persona. We see Bernie doing his thing at funerals, treating the grieving wonderfully, making them feel like the most important person in the world. This even carries over past the funeral as Bernie makes sure the grieving are remembered and cared for

Things change when Marjorie (Shirley MacLaine) loses her husband. The thing with her is that she is the most hated woman in town. Still, Bernie treats her as all of his customers. This relationship, however, never seems to end and Marjorie begins to demand more and more of his time. He leaves the funeral home to devote more time to her. The two are seen out and about, attending theater functions among other things.

The one day, Bernie apparently cannot take it anymore and shoots her four times in the back. He then uses his skills and reputation to cover it up for months. It works until a suspicious district attorney (Matthew McConaughey) begins asking questions and ultimately uncovers the grisly truth.

Bernie is definitely an odd film. It is quiet, sedate, approaches everything in a matter of fact manner. It is not your typical movie and the only reason I can think for it being made is that director Richard Linklater read the article and was intrigued by it.

The best part of this movie would have to be Jack Black as the title character. This movie is proof of how wonderful acting can be when you challenge an actor and they step up to meet it. Black is not the first guy you wold likely think for this role, but he disappears into it and turns in one of the finest performances of his career. His Bernie is unlike anyone else he has played and becomes this character, it is pretty amazing.

Bernie is a rather good film. It is not great. It is a curiosity in the cinematic landscape that is worth the visit. It is not a movie that makes any judgments, it just presents the case and the colorful characters populated within it.



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