For Reel

Bernie (2011)
July 5, 2012, 6:36 am
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Richard Linklater

For over two decades, Texan Richard Linklater has quietly been carving out a career for himself that marks him as one of the most versatile American directors of his time. Bernie, his latest, is a reliable detour, showing him experiment with docudrama in a way that mimics the Errol Morris aesthetic. Based on a 1998 article published in Texas Monthly magazine, the picture follows a high-spirited, relentlessly charitable funeral director who was convicted of murdering an 81-year-old woman. As the title character, Jack Black shows an unusual restraint and sensitivity – as much as the real-life man’s femininity could have been mocked, Black instead opts to show the genuinely good-hearted Bernie with sincerity, making the audience consistently empathize with the most unlikely of killers. Linklater, for whom Texas provided the setting of his nostalgic comedies Slacker and Dazed & Confused, similarly doesn’t treat the small-townsfolk as simple-minded, but rather people who can’t fathom how a loved-one could have done something so horrifically out-of-character. That it doesn’t answer the question (beyond the fact that the woman was especially mean) is frustrating but tastefully objective. Frivolous as it seems in the early-goings, Bernie craftily sneaks up on you, with Linklater accenting the underlying sadness of the man and allowing Black a platform with which to produce his career-best work.

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