Bernie (Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine) : Movie Review
When it comes to storytelling in the cinema, there is always added intrigue when there is a promise of something ‘true.’ Audiences are hungry for truths, and films—like other art forms—provide a medium in which to explore and reveal these.
Often ‘truth’ is an abstract occurrence, arrived at indirectly through a film’s narrative and/or aesthetic, but generally we are more alert in our viewing practice when presented with a direct truth: i.e. when a film is based on/inspired by true events.
“Bernie”, the latest feature from director/writer Richard Linklater, is a black comedy based on the events surrounding the 1996 murder of wealthy widow, Marjorie Nugent (played by Shirley MacLaine), at the hands of her trusted, unassuming companion, Bernie Tiede (Jack Black) in the small-town of Carthage, Texas.
Presented as part narrative film and part documentary (or mockumentary, depending on how you look at it), “Bernie” intersperses live-action focalised through Jack Black’s Bernie with retrospective interviews with the residents of Carthage.
These interviews provide a narration to the action, while also developing the character of Bernie beyond what is presented by Black. Linklater, a Texan with a rich history of paying homage to his roots on the silver-screen (see “Dazed and Confused”), handles the recreation of Carthage and its residents with such sincere affinity that at points in the film you may genuinely question if the interviews are with actors, or the real people involved (an online search confirms they are all actors).
The lead performances in “Bernie” are also of a high standard.
Jack Black in particular assumes the role of Bernie with near perfection. It is at once a complete change of pace for the often bawdy Black, whose Bernie is a genteel, sweet-natured, slightly effeminate southern charmer, while at the same time a natural fit, as Black injects an effortless comedy into the character, underplaying it just the right amount.
Black also gets ample opportunities to sing, and his delivery of gospel tunes and musical numbers provide healthy amusement as they are lightly infused with his characteristic Tenacious D-like delivery. Matthew McConaughey, a fellow Texan and long-time Linklater collaborator (once again, see “Dazed and Confused”, perhaps his finest role), is also great in the role of Danny Buck, the district attorney of Carthage, his comfortable southern drawl and mannerisms further enhancing the seeming authenticity of the recreated small-town.
On the whole, the real fascination with Bernie lies in its storytelling and the strange truth it presents. The film is crafted in such a way that there is a real sense of pleasant disbelief as to how the action unfolds.
It is neither suspenseful nor melodramatic, and for a film with a murder theme there is nary a dark tone; the story simply happens.
This subtle delivery paints an overall quaint and amusing study into the complexities of small-town relationships and mentalities, where everyone knows everyone and a man’s reputation carries more weight than his actions.
WATCH OUT FOR | RATING : 3.5 out of 5