Monday, March 20, 2017
You have probably met a guy like Bernie Tiede, especially if you've ever lived in the South and attended the local Baptist church. He stands out from other males his age in such environments: eternally single, keen interest in the performing arts and travel, deft with interior design. He is also unfailingly polite, charming, active in said church, serious about his work, and honest. Even after he kills the local widow.
Well, not right away. He leaves her body in a freezer for several months before the authorities discover her. He does not deny his crime when apprehended by the police. Bernie, an assistant mortician, calmly explains through genuine tears that he was waiting until he could properly prepare her for burial. He truly believes that his falsehoods to the residents of Cathage, Texas were means to an appropriate end.
2011's BERNIE recounts this true life story, complete with interviews with the actual folks who knew Bernie (Jack Black) and his friend Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine). Director and co-screenwriter Richard Linklater scatters their Q and A as punctuation throughout the story, one that could've easily merited one of those tacky "true crime" docs you see on cable. Instead, Linklater creates an engaging bit of Southern Gothic (with frequent use of old hymns on the soundtrack) that never feels lurid 'cause, dammit, that Bernie was such a nice feller.
And Black's performance is so on the money that we are smitten with him too. Some viewers may agree with all those townsfolk who refuse to think Bernie is guilty, even if they know he did it. But how could he do such a thing?! Nugent was a contemptible old snake and she deserved it, you see. Fact, Bernie was her only friend. He spent quite a bit of time dining, going to shows, and traveling with her. But she became possessive, demanding all of his time. Even a sweet soul like Bernie can have a breaking point after months of nagging and abuse.
Makes one wonder why Bernie's lawyer did not play the temporary insanity card (Did Bernie think maybe Satan whispered in his ear or something)? How would that have affected Danny Buck Davidson's (Matthew McConaghey, clearly enjoying himself) - the local D.A.- strategy?. He does recognize that a jury pool from Cathage would be unfairly biased, that a conviction would be impossible there. Davidson successfully has the venue changed to a town fifty miles away. A place the residents of Carthage think is filled with morons. One interviewee unapologetically explains that he thinks Bernie's jury all shared one brain.
Bernie was convicted for life, but his demeanor, although saddened, remained as sunny as ever. He even becomes a teacher and encourager of his fellow inmates. Watch those closing titles.