Without a doubt Bernie is one of the strangest films I have seen for the past few years. It really is an odd film, fact mixed with fiction, and strangely alluring. My interest in the film was easy, it was by co-written and directed by Richard Linklater and it starred Jack Black. This however didn’t look like anything either man has done before, and that in itself is quite intriguing.
The story here is based on a true one, but weaved with some fiction as they usually are. I think what sets this aside from other films is it feels like a mockumentary, however it isn’t really. Real towns people that lived through these events are in this as town folk, speaking their minds on the events. It was a brave move to do and it worked entirely in the films favour. The actual story is that of Bernie Tiede (Jack Black), he lives in a small town in Texas, he is a mortician and he is loved by all. After the death of her husband, Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine) and Bernie become close friends. Marjorie is the opposite of Bernie; the entire town despises this woman, even her own family. As time goes on, her treatment of Bernie gets to the point that he snaps and kills her. He covers up her death and plays it as thought she is still alive.
You may think I have revealed too much, but I really haven’t. The fact is this really did happen, and watching this all unfold the way it does is quite intriguing and extremely entertaining as strange as it might be for this story. Bernie is an enigma of a character, there is never really a time when one can get a good read on him, and this plays perfectly. There are certain things we do work out about Bernie; he loves being around people for example. I also really liked how this film gave us a small town feel, and how such events affect those people. This is something I do not want to give away; you just need to see how they do react. The film is a strange clever blend of genre’s and some how the really dark humor works and it is played where it needs to be.
I want to go on record and say this is Jack Black’s best performance to date. He disappears into Bernie, and not once during this film did I feel like I was watching Jack Black. This is unlike anything he has ever done; this is a quiet performance, subtle at times even. I was extremely impressed with the man, and I knew he had this in him; he just needed to be given the material to do so. Black and Linklater have worked together before with School Of Rock. Linklater knew how to utilize Black for that, and that resulted in a great comedic turn with a lot of heart from Black. This is entirely different but again Linklater knew what he was doing and Black put a lot into this character and performance and it shows. He actually spent a lot of time with the real Bernie, and no doubt this really helped him craft what he created for the film.
Shirley MacLaine was excellent as Marjorie, this is unlike anything she has ever done as well and I was just amazed at how she pulled it off. She brings this darkness to her character but a strange sympathy that attracts Bernie, but that does disappear and when it does she feels very sinister. It isn’t really easy to explain, but I give her major props. Matthew McConaughy has a smaller role here as Danny Buck, he’s really great here and he certainly brings in a lot of humor.
Bernie is a wonderful looking film; the cinematography was actually very striking. It was edited well and the pacing was absolutely perfect for it. This wasn’t an easy film to review; I really haven’t seen anything like it before. It took me by surprise and I was just so impressed with how it turned out. It takes some strange approaches but they actually pay off. This is one of those films that you really just need to sit and experience and enjoy this very bizarre ride.