Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Bernie [2012]

MPAA (PG-13)  Roger Ebert (3 1/2 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (2 Stars)

IMDb listing -
Roger Ebert's review -

Bernie (directed and cowritten by Richard Linklater along with Skip Hollandsworth) is a tight, well-written and well-edited (and when one steps back ... quite disturbing) docudrama about the real-life case of Bernie Tiede (played in the film by Jack Black) a well-liked, somewhat effeminate small town assistant funeral director from rural eastern Texas who first befriended and some years later accidently killed (or murdered ...) a wealthy but unpopular/disliked "old crow" widow named Marjorie Nugent (played in the film by Shirley MacClaine). 

Don't get me wrong.  It's a mesmerizing film/story.  About 20-30 actual townspeople are interviewed in the movie talking about the case and largely make the film.  BUT, as exasperated (and preening/somewhat sleazy) Texas State's Attorney Danny Buck (played by Michael McConaughey, IMHO PERFECTLY CAST for the role) tries repeatedly to remind the townspeople (and viewers...) this "sweet, amiable" small-town assistant funeral director Bernie who contributed to town/church (often using Marjorie's money...) and was "beloved by all" ... shot Marjorie _four times_ in the back killing her and then hid her body in a large freezer "under packages of frozen chickens and corn" in the garage.

It's a fascinating movie, but wow, it is also disturbing: Should likable people be allowed to spin/leverage their popularity to the point of trying to get away with murder with the defense "but you like me"?  Do troubled / disagreeable people deserve to die? 

Then the making of the movie itself presents some pointed moral questions.  Okay, the story is mesmerizing.  But it is about a real person who was really killed.  But then, honestly, what an object lesson / discussion piece.  Perhaps it would have been best if the film was completely fictionalized.  Still, the case did really happen.  The bottom line perhaps ought to be exactly where the State's Attorney tried to draw it: Let us remember that a real person was killed here and the one perpetrating the crime tried to hide it.

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