Bernie tells the real life story of a small-town assistant mortician who almost charmed his way out of a murder conviction. My review of this black comedy is after the jump.
In 1997 39 year-old Bernhardt “Bernie” Tiede was convicted of the murder of his 81 year-old millionaire “companion” Marjorie Nugent. Bernie was an assistant mortician who had moved to the town of Carthage, Texas some years earlier. Bernie had an extremely sunny disposition and quickly became a favourite among the townsfolk due to his extensive involvement in community events, his special care at funerals, and the extra care he paid to the widows of Carthage. Marjorie was a very wealthy widow who was almost universally disliked by the community; however Bernie was able to charm her and the two became inseparable. While they were originally fast-friends and companions, Marjorie gradually became more controlling and began treating Bernie like an employee as well as abusing him mentally. Even people as cheerful as Bernie can only take so much, and eventually he snapped…
Bernie is played fantastically by Jack Black who has managed to completely transform himself for this role – he is round and he is oh so jolly. It’s a rare thing to feel compassion towards a convicted killer, but the story of Bernie is so compelling that you cannot help it. Apart from the small fact of cold-blooded murder, it seems that he was the perfect example of a god-fearing Christian man – he sings, he dances, he preaches, and his kindness has no bounds. This is backed up by the “interviews” with the townsfolk of Carthage. The film is mix of the portrayal of what happened and interviews with townsfolk. In the film the townsfolk are played by amateurs who were recruited from the local area and their dialogue is based on transcripts of the original interviews with the actual townsfolk in the aftermath of the murder. These interviews are very amusing as the interviewees are speaking their minds, often [it seems] without really thinking about what about they were saying. Their beliefs and prejudices all come tumbling out with their opinions…The interviews serve both to tell the audience a lot about Bernie and Marjorie, while also effectively breaking the film up into the stages of the pair’s relationship.
Shirley MacLaine, and Matthew McConaughey both put in great performances, MacLaine as Majorie Nugent, and McConaughey as local district attorney, Danny Buck Davidson who brought the murder charges against Bernie. McCounaughey is on a bit of a role in 2012 (Killer Joe, Magic Mike) and this performance is no exception. He plays the straight-talking DA who seems to be the only one not affected by the “magic spell” Bernie had cast over the town. Some of the best lines come from his frustration at the town’s blind love for a killer; he also has a bit of an inflated ego which he likes to stroke at times. Some of the best scenes are when the townsfolk are trying to convince the DA to drop the charges because Bernie is just so gosh-darn nice. Danny just can’t fathom how a killer can be “nice”.
It’s a very unusual for a film based on a real murder to be comical, and yet this one is. What makes the film special is that while it is amusing it is very respectful of it’s subjects and tells the story in such a way that never belittles or misrepresents them. Bernie is an engaging & amusing character-driven dark comedy that could possibly end up being one of the funniest films of 2012.
Director: Richard Linklater
Writer(s): Richard Linklater & Skip Hollandsworth
Starring: Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, Matthew McConaughey
Runtime: 104 minutes
Release date(s): Australia & New Zealand: August 16 2012