DanijelJovanovic's Rating of Bernie

Danijel's Review of Bernie

5 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes


In 1996 a small town in Texas, called Carthage, was not as shaken up by a weird crime as you might think. Two years latter a journalist named Skip Hollandsworth wrote an article about that event. Somwhere on the line film director Richard Linklater read it, called up the journalist and in 2011 they gave us Bernie, a not so fictional account of the event. What exactly happened?

Well, the eponymous Bernie was the criminal, and he is the main reason for the reaction I mentioned above. Everybody is in love with him. As Jack Black portrays him, that is probably understandable. He came to town to do what he considers to be right there on the top of Lord's priorities - burying people. In that he is meticulous. He is also a studying pilot, an actor, director and musical supervisor in local theatre, social events organiser and a pretty fair singer. More importantly, he is best in lifting the spirits of everybody who meets him. That's why the information on the murder he commits doesn't induce the reaction one would expect when such a crime is comited.

Sure, that has something to do with his victim too. Marjorie Nugent, played with, for the most part, gratifying lack of suggestivness by the great Shirley MacLaine, is completely the oposite on the scale of popularity to Bernie. When her husbend passed away, Bernie befriended her, with the attention he payed to any other widow before her. Some time after the event, they became inseparable, by all acounts in a purely platonic way. In the period prior to the killing, the whole town witnessed her becoming way to possesive towards him, a behaviour coming close to imprisonment. Few also noticed that Marjorie was a little better off financially than his other aging companions. What were Bernie's intentions? One persone who finds them immoral is local DA Danny Buck, played by Matthew McConaughey in a very funny performance. His persistence brings a wider attention to Bernie's case.

For a film which shows a murder of an old rich lady by her much younger personal friend, with darkly comic undertones, it doesn't have much cynicsm in it, if any. What Linklater does is testing the limits of cynicsm in his audience. He never shows Bernie alone, not in a single moment of the film. That way he limits our knowlage of his character only on what we see and keeps us guessing if his real persona is different from what we can gasp directly. Helped by Black's subtle performance, which could or couldn't be interpreted as ambiguous, he knows majority of people will be dubious about this man seeming so angelic in appearance. Linklater doesn't try to break us; Jack Black, on the other hand, may just be able to do that with the unexpected honesty in his performance.

Now, I usualy don't like to attach an epithet "small" to a movie, and I esspetialy don't apprechiate it taped to some of the previous work by this director, to which it goes without saying in some circles. It's often more about what you achieve within the chosen subject matter, esspetialy if it's so connected to the politics of everyday life as in his case. However, I wonder if what he did here can be considered big.

For the most part the movie feels like one big introduction, something which comes naturaly I guess, considering that it's permeated with interviews with the real life people who lived there in the time of the event. Even though those scenes are never boring, and many of them are funny as hell, it seemed to me they continued to present us with Bernie's character for some time after that job was succesfully done. It made picture lose saome of its steam in the middle.

With the approach itsself, however, I don't have a problem. It served the story well. From someone who's never steped his foot anywhere near Texas, but knows few things about the consciousness of small communities, there is a sense of complete authenticity on dispaly here. When I discoverd Linklater was born and raised in Texas, it came to me as an only logical explanation. His ablity to bring it on the screen with the great deal of humor and well controled mockery is a something to remmember.

Unsurprisingly for a Richard Linklater film, Bernie came and went without a bang. Even though he never broke into the mainstream, or maybe precisely because of that, he remains to this day one of the most interesting of American indy filmmakers from the nineties.