PG-13, 104 min.
Director: Richard Linklater
Writers: Richard Linklater, Skip Hollandsworth (also article)
Starring: Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, Matthew McConaughy, Rick Dial, Sonny Davis, Bradley Coleman
Richard Linklater’s “Bernie” is one of the year’s hidden gems. This is such a wonderful movie about a wonderful person, who just so happens to have murdered the wealthy widow who has left everything to him. This is a dark comedy that embraces the light of its story and that light is Bernie himself, played perfectly by Jack Black in his best performance to date.
Based on a true story that took place in Eastern Texas, Linklater stages the movie like a documentary with some actors and some of the real people of Carthage, Texas playing themselves in interviews where they discuss what a great person Bernie is and how what happened could never really be his fault, despite the fact that he confessed to the murder and did little to cover it up. Hell, I didn’t want Bernie to be guilty either, even though Linklater showed me that he did it and how.
But the murder isn’t really what makes this movie so good. The characters are just phenomenal, from Black’s utterly likeable lead performance, to Shirley MacLaine’s brilliant turn as the overbearing witch that Bernie first courts and then kills. Matthew McConaughy continues his renaissance here with his role as the prosecuting attorney, who is treated as a villain even though he’s just doing his job, which would be harder to fail at than to succeed in this particular situation. And then there are the town’s people of Carthage. Their roles are like something out of the Christopher Guest mockumentaries. They are proof that the made up characters in his “Waiting for Guffman” are all too real in Carthage.