A Quick Review of Bernie

Hello all. It’s been about a month or so since I’ve posted my last review. A lot’s happened – namely, settling into a new job. It means that I don’t have the time I used to have to go to the movies. But I have been working on my “Top ten of the year” list and am prepping to review two big Christmas releases.

So, in the meantime, here’s a quick review of the Richard Linklater docu-comedy Bernie, featuring Jack Black playing someone other than Jack Black.

That fact alone is enough to recommend the film.  Black shows himself as a very subtle actor who manages to convey a sense of comfort. Bernie is based on a true story about a man who killed the wealthiest and meanest woman in a small Texas town. But he was so well liked by the people in the community that no one wanted to convict him even after he confessed to the crime. The DA (played by Matthew McConaughey) had to request a change of venue to ensure that Bernie even had a chance of being found guilty.

What is most unique is how director Linklater (of Dazed and Confused and Before Sunrise fame) formatted the story. It plays like a documentary, featuring the actors giving candid interviews on camera.

This was done, I imagine, so that Linklater could really recreate the reputation the real Bernie must have possessed. He managed to hypnotize an entire town with his lovable persona, and manages to make monstrous acts look like acts of charity. As the film points out, Bernie steals a large sum of money from the woman he murders. But he spends it on expensive gifts for neighbors and local businesses.

Showing Bernie as a character do this would have been a cheap ploy. It would have come across as a man trying to save himself. But the documentary style lets Bernie’s story be told by the people whom he desperately wanted to impress. It does lead to a level of sympathy for poor Bernie. Yes, the film virtually excuses the murder, but that’s part of the point. The town was certainly willing to forgive a cold blooded murder.

Black is also the reason the film works. Think of the typical Jack Black character. He’s a dirty slacker whose sloth becomes a badge of merit, because he’s secretly some sort of idiot savant. In Bernie, Black plays a very talented man who is only content to do everything he can in the town. The only reason he gets into a situation where he kills is because he is too nice to say no to anyone. Black never once wavers from Bernie’s conviction of being the best person he can possibly be. And he genuinely is a good person without resorting to spastic wackiness.

All of Linklater’s films (or at least his best ones) involve misfits who are trying their best to find their place in society. They are trying to be heroic, or at least insightful. Bernie fits into that theme well – the character feels like a natural conclusion for both Linklater and Black.

Bernie is now available on Netflix instant, and is one of the best “new arrivals” on the service. It is one of the best comedies I have seen in 2012, barring maybe Moonrise Kingdom.

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