Bernie (M)

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Review byMatthew Turner25/04/2013

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 104 mins

Hugely entertaining, smartly directed and darkly funny black comedy with a superb script and a terrific central performance from Jack Black.

What's it all about?
Directed by Richard Linklater, Bernie is based on a true story and stars Jack Black as colourful mortician Bernie Tiede, a beloved member of his Carthage, Texas community, thanks to his enthusiasm for local activities and his renowned generosity. However, Bernie's life takes an unexpected turn when he befriends wealthy-but-mean-spirited widow Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine) and takes to spending all his time with her, managing her finances and accompanying her on trips round the world.

With local tongues already wagging about the exact nature of Bernie and Marjorie's relationship, suspicions are raised still further when Marjorie mysteriously disappears with Bernie continuing to run her estate. Bernie maintains that she is recovering from a series of strokes and can't see anyone, but is he telling the truth?

The Good
Reteaming with School of Rock director Linklater, Jack Black delivers one of his best performances as Bernie, reining in his usual manic screen persona to impressive effect; one of the joys of Bernie is never quite being able to figure the character out – is he as all-around nice (albeit a little bit prissy) as he seems on the surface or is there something darker underneath? There's also terrific support from Shirley MacLaine at her grouchy best, while Matthew McConaughey puts in yet another winning comic performance as Danny Buck Davidson, a prosecutor who smells a rat and seems to be the only man in Carthage immune to Bernie's charms.

Since the film is based on a true story, Linklater adds an intriguing level of local colour by having intermittent scenes with both actors and real-life locals telling the story to camera documentary-style and commenting on Bernie himself. This gives the film a folksy quality that is genuinely endearing.

The Great
Linklater's assured direction nails the tone throughout, maintaining exactly the right level of deadpan so that the film constantly treads a fine line between black comedy and true crime drama (with a hint of documentary). Similarly, the clever script (by Linklater and Skip Hollandsworth, who wrote the original article the film is based on) does a good job of building the mystery and ensures that there are a couple of intriguing surprises along the way.

Worth seeing?
Superbly directed and cleverly written, Bernie is an endearing and frequently funny black comedy with a terrific central performance from Jack Black. Highly recommended.

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Content updated: 19/02/2020 20:15

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