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Marina Antunes [DVD News 08.20.12] comedy drama

It doesn't happen often but occasionally an actor stars in a role that is perfectly catered to them, so much so that one can't imagine anyone else playing the role. Bernie is that movie for Jack Black and here the actor best known for his comedic roles perfectly captures Bernie, a well liked East Texas mortician at the centre of an unlikely story of friendship, jealousy and death. That's not to say that Bernie is a straight up drama. Director Richard Linklater who co-wrote the script with reporter Skip Hollandsworth, infuse the story with all of the eccentricities of the real Bernie Tiede and the result is a beautiful mix of drama and dark comedy.

Bernie is the town cheerleader. He's deeply involved in the community and friendly with everyone. He meets Marjorie Nugent at her husband's funeral and we quickly learn that the now widowed woman is a ridiculously rich old lady who the other townsfolk avoid because she's a mean old bat. Bernie, being the nice guy that he is, feels sorry for Marjorie all alone in her big old house and makes a few attempts to befriend her. At first she refuses his approaches but on one fateful day, seemingly out of nowhere, she invites him in rather than turning him away and pretty soon the unlikely duo are best of friends. Soon Bernie is running all of Marjorie's errands, helping her with her finances and sharing in extravagant vacations together.

They seem happy in their friendship but soon Marjorie stars to take advantage of Bernie. She's demanding, mean and jealous of the time he spends away from her and pretty soon the friendly Bernie is looking for a way out and on a day when Marjorie is being particularly mean, he shoots her in the back, stuffs her in the freezer and for the next nine months continues on as if she's sick and he's taking care of her - all the while spending Marjorie's money.

The story behind Bernie is indeed stranger than any fiction but what's particularly interesting is that even though he admitted to killing Marjorie, a large part of the town wants to see Bernie acquitted of the charges because if he killed her, she obviously deserved it. What's interesting about Linklater's movie is that he manages to convince the audience of the same thing. Marjorie is such a mean old woman and Bernie such a selflessly nice guy, that it's a miracle that he didn't snap earlier! It certainly helps that after she's dead he uses her money to help the community rather than himself. Yup, this guy is all unicorns and rainbows if you listen to the townsfolk but District Attorney Danny Buck is determined to put the "Angel of Death" away.

Bernie is the role Black was born to play and he knocks it out of the ball park. The mannerisms, speech and physicality is perfect and so close to the real Bernie that Black melts into the role. For his part Matthew McConaughey hams up his southern charm as the justice seeking DA and though he's entertaining as all hell, this is Black's movie and he dominates even when he's not on screen.

The story itself is interesting but Linklater, never satisfied to do things the old fashioned way, has a little fun with the movie's structure, mixing the story with "interviews" with various individuals familiar with the story. In some instances, it's impossible to tell if the people being interviewed are actors or the real deal, almost as if this is a documentary with re-enacments by some high profile movie stars, which adds another layer of wackiness to the already crazy story.

Bernie is so ridiculous and hilarious that it's hard to believe the events depicted actually happened but the real doozy here is that Linklater and the cast build a story that makes the killer not only likable but so much so that the DA, the man in charge of putting Bernie in jail for a crime he confessed to, comes across as a dick. Bernie isn't only a fascinating and brilliant exercise in emotional manipulation but it's a damned enjoyable one at that.

Bernie is out on DVD and Blu-ray on Tuesday, August 21st.

DVD Extras: Tons of extras including cast interview, a short documentary on the real story behind the movie, director's commentary, bloopers and outtakes and perhaps most interestingly, auditions of "The Gossips' which helps explain why it was difficult to tell if this was part of the movie or real interviews.

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Emery (9 years ago) Reply

Sounds like Bernie is a pretty great movie! I just found it while looking for a movie to rent with my Blockbuster @Home package, so I figured I’d read up on some reviews of it first before I decided to add it to my queue. All I've been reading are fantastic reviews! I haven’t heard a negative thing about it yet, so now I’m really surprised I haven’t heard of it before. Did it just not do well in theaters or something? I wonder how many of my coworkers at Dish have seen this movie and failed to tell me about it!

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