Film Review : Bernie
● By Justin Buettner
Bernie Tiede moves to the small rural town of Carthage, TX as the assistant funeral director. As a natural people person and outgoing attitude Bernie quickly became popular with everyone in town, including the reviled Marjorie Nugent, a bitter and mean town widow who was also the most wealthy resident. Bernie and Marjorie’s relationship grew sour as Marjorie attempted to control Bernie’s life. Bernie snapped and murdered Marjorie. However Bernie was able to hide the killing for over nine months while he spent Marjorie’s fortune on the town’s people. Bernie became so well liked that even after his confession to the crime the townspeople so adored Bernie they begged for his release. Would Bernie get away with murder and should he?
This was an odd character study loosely based on a real life story. Of course the real account was much different than the one depicted in the movie. This dark comedy was written and directed by Richard Linklater who hit a balance of drama, comedy, and tone that gave Bernie a very unique vibe. It also reunited Linklater with Jack Black who struck box office gold together in 2003 with School of Rock. The two make a great pairing as Jack Black effortlessly carried the film as the central character Bernie, giving a solid performance without ever resorting to his common antics as a comedian. The rest of the cast was equally strong. Shirley MacClaine was excellent Marjorie Nugent and once again Matthew McConaughey excels at the part of a lawyer as DA Danny Buck. McConaughey’s best work routinely has him play lawyers, perhaps he should think about getting his law degree and switching careers?
The real laughs and entertainment comes from the first person interviews that pop up throughout the film with the small town locals who describe their views on the people and the particulars in the case. These small characters added a ton of personality to the film. They also sold the small town feeling the movie needed to succeed. It really stole a page from Christopher Guest’s playbook as his mockumentaries Best in Show and A Mighty Wind really show how the format works at its best.
The weird twist on this movie is the way the filmmakers frame the situation. There is never a question that Bernie murders Marjorie Nugent, but the film does its best to convince you that it may have been the right thing to do. Danny Buck looks as puzzled as a level headed person would when the town’s people beg him to let Bernie off despite a full confession from Bernie himself. The movie goes on to show how Bernie uses Nugent’s money to help the towns people and not himself, as he was buying cars for other people while he kept his loan on his old clunker. After doing some research I could not find these details in the real life account, but adding these twists I think made the film more interesting in the end. Essentially this film is told from the villain’s perspective, something truly rare, and it almost gets away with convincing you to be on his side, quite a task.
Bernie is certainly an interesting movie with enough wit and tongue in cheek humor to be chuckle funny, but not laugh out loud funny through the entire film. It definitely has a very dark side, but it is presented in such a cheerful way, that you can’t help but to be sucked into the notion that maybe Bernie is not such a bad guy after all (although I think everyone will agree the guy is strange to say the least). By downplaying the more distasteful aspects of the real case and embellishing the “robin hood” style spending he does with Marjorie’s money also helps paint this crazy character in a more favorable light. Bernie may not be for everyone, but if you like great character studies this movie will be a perfect match for you.
Films like Bernie : Best in Show, Fargo, and Serial Mom
Justin Buettner is Style's resident movie dude! How did he get this role? Well, he graduated from Loyola Marymount University with a Bachelor of Arts in film Production and a duel minor in Animation and Business with an emphasis in the entertainment field. He later went on to work on several independent films in various key roles including writer and later worked in the special effects field as a motion capture artist. He has since relocated to the Sacramento area with his family and continues writing for small independent films in addition to his movie reviews for Style Magazine.