Directed By: Richard Linklater
Written By: Richard Linklater
In the tiny, rural town of Carthage, TX, Bernie Tiede, an assistant funeral home director, was one of the most beloved residents, the backbone of the whole little community. He taught Sunday school, sang in the church choir and was always willing to lend a helping hand. Apart from that Bernie was a perfectionist in every element of his life, a devoutly religious, tightly-wound man of impeccable manners. Everyone loved and appreciated him, especially elderly widows and widowers he used to visit and comfort after funerals. Although he wasn’t paid for doing so he simply thought it was the right thing to do, he could do it so he did it, no strings attached. But the Devil never sleeps and you are never completely safe, especially from your own little urges. Or so say the Scriptures.
‘Bernie” is a pleasant little movie about an ‘accidental’ murderer. Based on a 1998 magazine article by Skip Hollandsworth (who co-wrote the screenplay with Linklater) and peppered with interview snippets from real people who knew Bernie Tiede, the film often plays like a dramatised documentary about a man who should have gotten away with murder but, unfortunately, didn’t. Yes, unfortunately – you read it right. Watching this amazing, true tale unfold is in fact one of the great joys of this flick. Let me just tell you that rarely on film you are able to get a portrait of a community captured so wholeheartedly. While there are a multitude of ‘redneck’ moments that make you laugh, these people are also capable of breathtaking kindness – Linklater obviously has a huge amount of sympathy for his subjects.
Jack Black is phenomenal in the titular role. He delivers a lovable, highly nuanced portrayal of a man who is hard not to feel sympathy for, even if it does grind against your conscience after a while. He makes Bernie a sweet, kind man who believes in God, welcomes Jesus as his personal saviour and just wants to make life better for everyone around him. But, unfortunately, Satan is always lurking at the corner so (spoiler, highlight to read) one day Bernie shots his patroness, the cruel, selfish Marjorie, in the back four times in a fit of powerless rage. No, he is not one of these types who plan a murder with cold blood and execute it flawlessly. In the end Bernie is as shocked at his own behavior as everyone else. He also tries to ‘atone’ for his sin, givng away a lot of Marjorie’s money while (another juicy spoiler, you know how to proceed) keeping her body in a freezer which proves that either he wasn’t such a good Christian he pretended to be or he didn’t understand a word from his Bible.
Observing the whole process was a joy and also a great argument against greed delivered without giving heavy-handed sermons.
“Bernie’ isn’t a monumental or a scenic film, but it is a finely tuned character study with some nice innovations. Personally I liked it very much. I suppose the key to the Linklater’s success with Bernie, isn’t only the director’s empathy for each and every character involved in this story, but also his willingness to present them as honestly as possible, flaws and all, without any judgmental commentary.