Here’s ‘Bernie’, The Nicest Murderer You Could Ever Hope To Meet
Director Richard Linklater is well known for his dark comedies set in small, Texas towns (Dazed and Confused being the most famous so far), but in putting a spotlight on the true story of Bernie Tiede, the nicest murderer you could ever hope to meet, he didn’t just cast a lot of Hollywood talent to bring the small community of Carthage to life. He cast the town itself.
Truth is stranger than fiction, and much of the charm of Bernie comes from the cast of characters who knew the man himself, not to mention his victim, the elderly woman with whom he had a very strange relationship. In an interview, Linklater confirmed that he wanted to get as close to the real deal as he could, and it doesn’t come any closer than actually filming in the town where Bernie murdered Marjorie Nugent and hid her body in a freezer for nine months.
Played by Jack Black and Shirley MacClaine respectively, this May/December extreme friendship that ends in tragedy is the driving force behind the film, and both actors are at the very top of their game. Black even visited with the real Bernie in order to prepare for the role; when asked what the man thought about having Jack Black portray him, Bernie apparently confessed that he didn’t even know who Jack Black was. He had been in prison for that long.
Whether it was from meeting Bernie or from his own talent, Black shines in this film and if his co-star has her way, expect him to be nominated for some awards next year. He manages to find the perfect balance between nice guy and salesman and finds a way to become a man who is out and proud about his Christian lifestyle, yet ambiguous about his sexuality. A man who is as beloved by his fellow prisoners as he was by the town of Carthage
But did he deserve to be put in prison? Although there is a crime and a trial (the prosecutor is played by Linklater favorite Matthew McConaughey), the movie leaves the real questions up to the viewer. What caused Bernie to snap? Was he at all justified? Was the world a better place without Marjorie Nugent? It’s clear from the beginning that the townsfolk seem to think it is; fifteen years later, they’re still on Bernie’s side.
“I love to be impossible,” MacClaine said when asked why she took on the role of a woman so notoriously horrible that her own family didn’t bother to look for her for nine months. She went on to claim, smiling the whole time, that she was practicing for her own twilight years. Let’s hope those years are in the very distant future. It’s hard to disagree with Black’s statement that MacClaine is a legend.
Although most of the town of Carthage welcomed the film crew, Linklater confessed that the local churches were not so thrilled by their presence. One church sign even read, “Murder is dark, but not comedy.” Bernie is a little dark, no doubt, but the superb performances, side-splitting revelations about the geography of Texas and the opportunity to hear one member of Tenacious D sing gospel help the film lean more towards a comedy than some of the movies that are given the “dark comedy” designation. You may not walk out laughing, but if you’ve ever lived in a small town, you will feel like you’ve just gone home for a visit.
Bernie opens nationwide on April 27th.