Movie Review: Bernie

By Stephen Rebello

Jack Black stars in the dark Texan comedy about a bizarre real-life tale.

Director: Richard Linklater MPAA Rating: PG-13 Studio: Castle Rock Entertainment

Bernie never shuts the hell up. The Richard Linklater–directed black comedy — the bizarre real-life tale of a much-liked mortician who shot and deep-froze his mean, rich benefactor — is set in teensy Carthage, Texas, and every frame of the movie makes it clear how much the director dearly loves his home state’s every twangy, folksy, Bible-thumping nook and cranny. 

It’s Linklater’s conceit to interrupt scenes of his oddball couple, whimsical Jack Black and nasty Shirley MacLaine, with a Greek chorus of talking heads of actual Carthage citizens who knew their real-life counterparts. And talk they do, spinning a bizarre portrait of a town whose population flat-out refuses to accept the reality that “nice” people can be killers. As charming, funny and scary as some of these folks are, though, Linklater lets them prattle on and on, slowing down and slicing the heart out of what is otherwise a dark, funny, nasty little tale. It’s all very well acted by a toned-down Black who, breaking out in full-throated gospel, flirtatiously chatting up a male hotel worker and tending to his elderly employer’s every need and whim, keeps his character’s motivations tantalizingly vague but almost always endearing. MacLaine is so good that she breathes life, malice and great charm into what is practically an unwritten role. Matthew McConaughey turns up, too, doing very nicely as a local D.A. who suspects Bernie isn’t what he appears to be.

Part quasi documentary, true crime thriller and psychological study, Bernie, cowritten by Linklater and Skip Hollandsworth, has its pleasures but, in the end, is just a little bit of this and that.  It’s a curio of a movie. 


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