Thursday, April 25, 2013

Ebert Thoughts ‘13—Bernie (2012) ***½

PG-13, 104 min.
Director: Richard Linklater
Writers: Richard Linklater, Skip Hollandsworth (also article in Texas Monthly)
Starring: Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, Matthew McConaughey, Bradley Coleman, Richard Robichaux, Rick Dial, Brandon Smith, Larry Jack Dotson, Merrilee McCommas, Mathew Greer, Sonny Davis

Of all the films at Ebertfest this year, none is more obviously about a good man than Richard Linklater’s real life inspired “Bernie”. That fact that Bernie is also a murderer can hardly be held against him.  

The movie tells the story of an assistant funeral director in a small northeastern Texas town who was convicted of murdering his older female companion and the town loved him anyway. It helps to understand that the companion was one of the least liked people in town, a widower who treated most people like they weren’t worth the dirt they walked on. She seemed to like Bernie, though. Everyone liked Bernie. Bernie was good folk.

Linklater tells his tale with a sort of documentary style; not exactly mockumentary as there is no real illusion that this is supposed to be a documentary. However, most of the tale is told by the townspeople in a confessional setting, with the people talking directly to the camera. Some of the townspeople are played by the real townspeople from the actual town where these events took place. This makes this film a delight to watch. It gives the impression of some of Errol Morris’s documentaries as the people telling the story are sometimes more interesting than the story itself.

Jack Black plays Bernie in a performance that will go down as one of his best. He allows that childlike quality of his to come out, but with none of the nastiness or ego that shape many of Black’s characters from other movies. And he sings. Boy oh boy, does Jack Black sing a lot in this movie. It’s like a musical, but it’s a feel good musical about murder, not like “Sweeney Todd”. It makes you feel good to hear all these songs and see what a nice guy Bernie is. There’s no doubt why these people forgive Bernie for his transgressions and would feel better having this murderer walk among them than to have him pay for his crime.

You can read my previous Penny Thoughts of "Bernie" here.

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