Directed by Richard Linklater
Starring: Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, Matthew McConaughey
This review contains spoilers.
Director and co-writer Richard Linklater brings to the screen the based-on-a-true-story tale of a man named Bernie Tiede, a beloved funeral director from the small East Texas town of Carthage. Saying Tiede was beloved is an understatement. He was kind and generous, more than anyone in the town would expect, even from their own family. So to say Tiede was loved by the town like he was a part of everyone’s family, that’s accurate.
And after he commits murder, it becomes a problem. After meeting Marjorie Nugent throughout the funeral process of her husband, Tiede becomes everything to Nugent. But to understand the situation one must understand the characters, and the film takes its time displaying the man who is Bernie Tiede. The man who donates time and money to the needy of the community; who sings and performs musical theater; who has a very hard time saying no to anyone. This man is capable of murder? Even after a confession, the community still has its doubts.
To add fuel to the fire, Marjorie Nugent wasn’t exactly the town’s favorite person. A man admits that there are people in the town who would probably have killed Marjorie for as little as $5. But that doesn’t excuse the act that Bernie Tiede committed and prosecutor Danny Buck is passionate to see that justice is served.
The movie is done in documentary style where the townspeople give their opinions about Bernie and his situation. But the film’s central star is Jack Black, who gives life to Bernie Tiede. Black never takes the character over-the-top, something he’s made a living doing in his career. Instead, he gives Tiede a quiet gentleness, doing everything with deadpan passion and not trying to evoke laughs from this black comedy. It pays off at the end as we’re able to really feel for his character while questioning his true motives.
Linklater has shown great diversity from the collection of movies he’s directed. Something that always feels natural is the dialogue in his films. In Bernie, the back and forth style from documentary interviews and the telling of Bernie’s story is one that enhances it, because it allows us to witness some real-life residents of Carthage. And believe me, they’re the funniest parts of the film.