INSPIRED – Bernie tells the true story of Bernie Tiede, a gentle caretaker who shot in cold blood a wealthy elderly woman whom he’d befriended, though the whole town of Carthage, Texas hated her.
Bernie stars Jack Black as the well-loved, but now imprisoned, Bernie Tiede. It’s one of those roles you walk out asking “Who else but Jack Black could have possibly pulled that off?”
Black is that good. As is Shirley MacLaine as Bernie’s unsuspecting geriatric victim, Marjorie Nugent. Both actors may be tapped for Oscar nominations for their performances.
Matthew McConaughey is also very good as the small town D.A. whose job it is to prosecute poor, harmless Bernie against the town folks’ wishes.
Linklater’s portrayal of the 1996 story begins with Bernie demonstrating proper corpse grooming technique in front of a handful of wannabe morticians.
“Can’t have them looking unhappy to be there,” he instructs.
The scene is not only a foreshadowing of the delicate and fastidious nature of the protagonist, but a glimpse into the director’s clinical, albeit macabre, approach taken to this otherwise tragic true life tale.
Like most of Linklater’s films, Bernie dances to its own beat, and will surely not reach a wide audience.
Linklater’s only film to date that took aim at the main stream was the endlessly entertaining School of Rock, also starring the cherubic rockster, Jack Black.
The director used his whole bag of tricks in Bernie.
Again, he capitalized on Black’s musical chops, placing him in several scenarios involving song & dance. The casting of Shirley MacLaine as the cantankerous and demanding victim was a stroke of genius. MacLaine is an actress who can reduce the strongest male to a mouse with a single look. The casting of long time pal and fellow Texan, McConaughey – who Linklater discovered in Dazed and Confused – paid dividends with the star adding male gravitas to the mix as the relentless prosecutor.
Bernie is a film about friendship and loyalty. Yes, it exceeds the boundaries on both; but at its core it demonstrates how lonely people can become when they either don’t fit in or turn their back on others. How the simplest acts of generosity and thoughtfulness can brighten someone’s day and turn a frown into a smile. How the term “kill them with kindness” can be extremely effective – but should never, ever be taken literally.