Bernie is a funny movie. I mean, occasionally, laugh out loud, and there wasn’t a pratfall or a joke to be found. Strange for a basically true story of a mortician (Jack Black), well-loved, generous, pious, in an east Texas town, who starts squiring around a wealthy and unpleasant widow (Shirley McLaine), ignored by her own family, until Bernie is charged with her murder, and prosecuted by the generally unlikable district attorney (Matthew McConaughey).
You know when there is a particularly heinous crime in a town, and the defense attorney asks for a change of venue, lest the accused not be able to get a fair trial? That is NOT what happens here.
In the wrong hands, this could be a farce or a disaster. But director/co-writer Richard Linklater, who worked with Black in School of Rock, literally gets back to his Lone Star roots to create a black comedy and a fantastic character study, not just of the lead participants, but of a whole town, who seem to have collectively accepted the context of the rather disturbing events. To the degree the viewer agrees with the town becomes an interesting reflection of justice and morality.
To say this is Jack Black’s finest performance would be an understatement. Roger Ebert wrote: “I had to forget what I knew about Black. He creates this character out of thin air, it’s like nothing he’s done before, and it proves that an actor can be a miraculous thing in the right role.”
McLaine is wonderful as usual. McConaughey is all but unrecognizable, but very effective. But what makes this work are the various townspeople who fill in Bernie’s biography.
I am loath to say much more. See Bernie. But sit through the closing credits. A lot is revealed there, yet people walking out of the theater simply missed it.
Though I saw him in only one film, The Green Mile, I was sad to see that Michael Clarke Duncan died this week at the age of 54 (!) as a result of his July 13 heart attack.