Second Opinion – Bernie (2011)

Bernie, 2011.

Directed by Richard Linklater.
Starring Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine and Matthew McConaughey.

Bernie movie poster


In small-town Texas, the local mortician strikes up a friendship with a wealthy widow, though when he kills her, he goes to great lengths to create the illusion that she’s alive. 

Jack Black in Bernie

Director Richard Linklater is one of the most unpredictable film makers working today. Thankfully he is also one of the most consistently successful; from sci-fi (A Scanner Darkly), romance (the ‘Before’ trilogy), charming comedy (Me and Orson Welles), and adult drama (Tape), Linklater is a director who should be a much bigger name in Hollywood than he is.

With Bernie, he yet again shows a talent for tackling a new genre, namely the ‘talking-head’ documentary. The film tells the true story of Bernie Tiede, a man who murdered an 81 year old wealthy widow, who was also his closest friend, in the small town of Carthage, Texas. The two lived together and a sexual relationship is hinted at but never mentioned outright.

The film is both funny as a comedy in some parts and peculiar in others. As the title character Jack Black delivers a delightfully camp performance which question Bernie’s sexuality and his relationship with the many elderly women in the town, and makes him seem like a man who wouldn’t harm his greatest enemy if there were indeed anyone who actually disliked him. He is at once both faultless and complex.

The opening scene is superb. We see Bernie talking to a room of students in great detail and obvious affection for his profession; an undertaker. The attention to detail in both direction and performance is tremendous as they are throughout the film in general. This is easily Jack Black’s best performance to date even if the competition for that accolade is a rather short list.

The ‘talking head’ interview technique is not anything new and throughout the we are questioning the legitimacy of the opinions; however when the credits roll we realise these are the actual residents of the town discussing the real Bernie Tiede and the real murder case which adds enormous weight to the film and kudos to Linklater’s decision to present the film in this way. Yet again Linklater proves himself as a thoroughly well-rounded film maker who could apply his trade to any genre.

With the small scale success of Bernie and the third in his Ethan Hawke/Julie Delpy relationship study due for release this year, Richard Linklater is due a huge commercial success at some point in his career but the likelihood of him making a big budget film purely for the money is probably slim.

More power to him. 

Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ 

Rohan Morbey – follow me on Twitter.

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