Cinepub


Murder Week: Bernie by Jamie

I don’t know what it says about our culture that the first to movies I’m reviewing for Murder Week are comedies. Also not sure what the hell it says about me. Still, up on the docket today is another little known comedy which reunites “School of Rock” director Richard Linklater and star Jack Black by the name of “Bernie”. Now, there’s one thing that really kind stands out about this movie and that’s that it’s a comedy based on a real murder. And not a real life murder that happened two centuries ago as is the case with John Landis’ “Burke and Hare”. No, this was an actual murder that happened in 1996. Stranger still, the film contains testimonials featuring people from the town where the murder happened. So, yeah, I think it’s fair to say I’ve never really seen anything quite like this before. Now, there are spoilers ahead but it’s not really the kind of film that can be spoiled. The characters and how they react to the plot are far more important than the plot itself.

Bernie (Black) is the assistant funeral director in the small town of Carthage, Texas. His good and exceedingly giving nature has made him the most beloved member of the community, particularly the fact that he goes out of his way to ensure the well-being of the relatives of the departed. Due to this, he soon becomes the only friend of the recently widowed Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine), someone who is pretty much reviled in Carthage. It isn’t long until Nugent is abusing Bernie’s insanely kind nature and soon the poor man’s seemingly infinite patience begins to run thin. In a fit of blind rage, Bernie picks up a gun and shoots Nugent four times in the back. He finds he can keep the crime hidden for some time because of Nugent’s unpopularity in town. He finds that few people ask questions about her and those that do quickly take his word for it. He also begins to use Nugent’s money to help out people in town and using pretty much none of it for himself.

Unfortunately for Bernie, there’s one person who isn’t satisfied with Bernie’s answers and that’s Nugent’s Stock Broker. He brings in the District Attorney, Danny Buck Davidson (Matthew McConaughey) who quickly uncovers Bernie crime. Davidson suddenly finds himself in a bit of a bind. He quickly discovers that, even though Bernie is clearly guilty and has confessed to the crime, none of the townsfolk will convict him if they are on the jury. In an unprecedented move, Davidson requested that the trial be moved to San Augustine, not because he felt that Bernie would be convicted unfairly but because it seemed as though conviction would be completely impossible for a conviction at all in Carthage.

So that’s pretty much the plot of the film, though I’ll leave the result of the trial out so there’s something there for you to find out for yourself. I’ve got to say, I was pleasantly surprised by this film. Jack Black is playing a very different character from what he usually does and it’s a pleasant change indeed. He manages to pull off the loveable murderer brilliantly and for the most part, he plays it fairly straight with most of the humour from his character basically coming from just how unbelievably nice he is. Also worthy of note are MConaughey and MacLaine who are both excellent, particularly McConaughey as he becomes more and more frustrated with a town who has pretty much decided that they don’t care if Bernie has murdered someone.

The real star of this film and the main source of its humour, however, is the town of Carthage. The testimonials from the townspeople are just fantastic and the fact that Linklater decided to include them is truly a stroke of genius. It’s the gossip nature of this film that really sells it and the thing that really kept me watching what would otherwise be a serviceable if somewhat played out true crime film. You just cannot help but fall in love with these people as they express their love for Bernie. In particular there’s an older women who keeps on insulting Nugent whilst another woman just sits next to her laughing. It’s great.

So yeah, I would definitely recommend Bernie if you want to see a comedy about a true life murder. I’d recommend it if you want to see Jack Black do something different. And I’d definetly recommend it if you want to see something that you’ve probably never seen before. Four pints out of five. Laterz.

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