‘Bernie’Out now on DVD via Red Box and Netflix
Every movie year produces a couple of hidden gems.
These are the films that get critical acclaim, yet often fly under the radar and don’t get a large release.
Chances are good you’ve heard about the final “Twilight” movie, and might even be one of the millions who’s going to see it in its first few weekends.
The chances are also good you haven’t heard of the film “Bernie.” And that’s a shame, because it’s one of 2012’s definite hidden gems.
“Bernie,” out now on Netflix Instant Streaming and available via Red Box, is from director Richard Linklater, the man behind the cult classic “Dazed and Confused” and the crowd-pleasing “School of Rock.”
Here, he reunites with his “School” leading man, Jack Black, to tell the true story of Bernie Tiede, perhaps the nicest resident of the small town of Carthage, Texas.
Bernie is a professional mortician who takes pride in making sure everyone looks their best before taking that eternal dirt nap. He’s also involved in community theater and church choir and is loved by everyone.
So, it comes as a complete shock when he’s arrested for the murder of recently widowed Marjorie Nugent, played with very little dialogue by a still-effective Shirley MacLaine.
Black gives his best performance to date as Bernie. Gone is his wild comedic persona that people most identify him with. Here, you forget all about the comic and accept him as this generally nice and decent man who was pushed to the brink.
He and MacLaine have great chemistry together as they develop a friendship that spins into co-dependency.
Not to be outdone is Matthew McConaughey, who has quickly moved away from the shallow romantic comedies he was known for and into films with substance. His district attorney, Danny Buck Davidson, is portrayed as a media-seeking politician who is still effective at his job.
What you might be surprised to learn about “Bernie” is that it’s a comedy, although a very dark one. Watching it, one can’t help but be reminded of the Coen Brothers’ “Fargo,” with its mix of murder, comedic one liners, colorful characters and, ultimately, human tragedy.
“Bernie” is chock full of colorful characters, and it’s the film’s greatest strength. The reason is these characters are the town’s real residents.
Linklater frames the movie around on-camera recollections by Carthage’s citizens, giving the film a documentary-like feel. They also deliver the best lines, such as one man referring to a nearby town’s population as having “more tattoos than teeth.”
So, when the shine on blockbusters like “Twilight” and “Skyfall” start to dim, do yourself a favor and check out “Bernie.” With fine performances by its three stars and a filmmaking approach that serves the story that much more, it’s one of 2012’s best to-be-discovered treasures.
Brad Dickerson, email@example.com