Bernie  (2011)

It's kind of hard to classify "Bernie" - it's a dark comedy, based on a true story, half-shot in the style of a documentary. Even the half that was documentary-style was split further in half, with some actor portrayals balanced out by the real people who lived through the events. The mash of genres and styles made for a unique movie.

In 1996, a mortician, Bernie Tiede, moved into a small Texas town. He immediately became the friend of everyone, the guy who was always smiling, singing in church, supporting the community. He comforted families in their time of mourning, and had a special touch with the elderly widows. A local oil magnate dies, and his wife is the opposite of Bernie - no one likes her, she's cold and harsh. It sounds like they're painted with broad strokes, but when you take into consideration the real-life town of Carthage, Texas only has a population around 6,000, it's easier to believe in the "small town ways" shown here.

Bernie eventually becomes the only person Marjorie will associate with. It starts off nice, going on vacations and social outings, but eventually turns into Bernie being more of a servant, in charge of food and laundry and chauffeuring. Since this is based on a true story that happened twenty years ago (and this next point is even mentioned in the short description of the movie), I'm going to tell you that ***SPOILER ALERT ANYWAY*** Bernie ends up murdering Marjorie. He is brought in, and despite confessing to the crime, the court of public opinion refuses to believe that Bernie could commit such an act.

This movie reminded me in a sense of the Netflix "Making A Murderer" series, but in reverse. Without dredging up all the details and theories and counter-theories about "Murderer", the simplest thing to say is that Steven Avery was definitely from the wrong side of the tracks in Manitowoc, he wasn't a pillar of the community, and most of the people in town thought he was guilty before the trial even started. If the events of "Bernie" are true (and I've read that this movie has been praised for accuracy) it's the opposite of "Making A Murderer" - Bernie Tiede is a stand-up member of society, and the townspeople rally around him. Steven Avery's defense team requested a change of venue to aim for a more fair trial; in a rare occurrence, the State of Texas moved the trial to a new location because they feared a jury from Carthage would blindly acquit Bernie.

Jack Black, Matthew McConaughey & Shirley MacLaine were all great. Black managed to walk the line between playing a real person and playing a character. He never went into full goofy typical 'Jack Black' mode, but from the description of the real Bernie, he played it pretty well. The thing that never set totally well with me was the truthfulness of the story. Whenever there was a moment of dark comedy, something would hit me saying "hey, this really happened, someone was murdered" and it would be a bit jolting. A straight documentary might have had more weight to it, while a straight "based on a true story" retelling may have been more entertaining. Straddling the line between the two pulled the movie down for me.

 

 

On the [Celluloid Hero] scale, "Bernie" gets a 5 out of 10.