Based on a surprising true story, Bernie is a dark comedy starring Jack Black, directed by Richard Linklater, which kinda passed by nearly unnoticed despite the talent involved and the intriguing premise at its heart.
Though he was nominated for a Golden Globe, that Jack Black was ignored for an Oscar nomination just goes to show the Academy Awards' reluctance to acknowledge comedy as a legitimate genre worthy of recompense. The actor goes completely against-type as the mild-mannered, multi-talented Bernie Tiede who one day, out of nowhere, shot an 81 year-old millionairess after a lifetime of not doing anything remotely violent or suspicious. The film makes full use of Black's versatility and he rises up to the challenge like a pro, delivering one memorable, quietly hilarious performance. Linklater tells this tale through a variety of talking heads which build up every scene and although this technique rarely works when it's not used in a documentary, here it helps give you a good idea of how Bernie was perceived by his community and how popularity can almost absolve you of any wrong doing. The man remains a bit of a mystery to us from start to finish, which is one of the film's biggest strengths.
Should we like this guy as much as we do?
Is his whole life just an act?
Matthew McConaughey plays the local district attorney Danny Buck Davidson, probably the only person in town who doesn't fall for Bernie's charms, and he is clearly having a good time throughout. The older woman Bernie befriends is played by Shirley MacLaine and she also has a ball being consistently and inexplicably horrible to him, eventually treating him like a prisoner. The film is very funny, pretty dark and fascinating as a character study. Bernie is such a weird little man you want to believe every single rumour about him but, for all we know, none of it is true. This is one of those low-key movies which used to do really well on home video and it's likely it'll gain a cult status through Netflix, good word-of-mouth and Linklater's recent success with Boyhood and deservedly so: this is an underrated, bizarre comedy with a lot going for it.
All in all, I highly recommend Bernie as it boasts one of Jack Black's most layered, memorable performances and tells a pretty gripping story which sucks you in instantly. While not a typically Richard Linklater flick, you can tell he had fun bringing Bernie's tale to life and, ultimately, you'll have fun watching it come to life.
An underrated gem.