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In small-town Texas, the local mortician strikes up a friendship with a wealthy widow, though when he kills her, he goes to great lengths to create the illusion that she's alive.
For more about Bernie and the Bernie Blu-ray release, see Bernie Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on August 20, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Director: Richard Linklater
Writer: Richard Linklater
Starring: Jack Black, Matthew McConaughey, Shirley MacLaine, Rick Dial
» See full cast & crew
Bernie Blu-ray Review
Spend a weekend with this Bernie.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, August 20, 2012
What you're fixin' to see is a true story.
The scales of justice aren't weighted according to one's previous deeds in life. They do not take into account history or intangibles or anything but the facts of the case, the truths as they are laid out before the blinded lady. They're not weighted more heavily towards one side for the drunkard wife beater, nor are they any more forgiving to the kindly philanthropist, the pillar of the community, the "he could never do wrong" rock upon which so many people rely. Such is the tale of Bernie Tiede (Jack Black, School of Rock), a man seen as a true blessing to his small east Texas community, perhaps a little odd at his core but a man beloved by most and admired by all. But sometimes even the best of humanity succumbs to the raw, unmistakable, sometimes even unshakable power of the moment, the moment when the gravity of a situation, the inescapability of a circumstance weigh so heavily even on the kindest and gentlest of souls that a moment of panic, of escape from the norm, of reversion to animalistic instincts takes hold and brings about a tragedy of shocking proportions. Bernie's story is one of good and evil, of a life shaped by kindness but defined by a moment of weakness. It's a fascinating Dark Comedy and a wonderfully-made motion picture about probably the most interesting man and captivating story ever to come out of Carthage, Texas, or anywhere for that matter.
Bernie Tiede is an outgoing man, a jolly good neighborly sort who is described by friends, acquaintances, and the good folks of Carthage, Texas as "charismatic" and a man with "the ability to make the world seem kind." Carthage, Texas is "where the South begins." It's been rated as one of America's best small towns, and the best small town in the entire sprawling state of Texas. Most of its residents are born there, live there, and die there. Bernie's a transplant. He was hired on at the Leggett Funeral home and, almost overnight, became a local sensation. He's not just a great mortician, but a wonderful speaker, friend, and neighbor, a real pillar of the community. He's especially fond of the local widows and they of him. He cares for them and their well-being in times of tragedy. There's rumors of his sexuality, but his place in the church, kind heart, and, well, the fact that he's living in rural Texas mean he's probably playing things straight. One day, he meets Mrs. Nugent (Shirley MacLaine), a recent widow who's largely disliked by the town. She keeps to herself and treats customers at her bank poorly. She's the kind of person someone might gladly "shoot for $5." She's dismissed her kin and kept her substantial wealth to herself. But Bernie wiggles his way into her life. They become friends and travel companions and Bernie becomes heir to much of her fortune. He uses the money to help his friends and build the community, all while driving the same old car and living in the same small and unassuming house. But Mrs. Nugent's grasp over Bernie is tightening. He's finding her impossible to deal with and her overbearing ways are keeping him from moving on with his life. Can Bernie shake her off before something terrible happens?
Bernie's simple story really does boil down to a classic case of black and white with no real shades of gray, and it's because the characters are so starkly contrasted but fully detailed and brought to marvelously intricate life that the movie works so well with that story of simple and well-liked people creating a pretty large ruckus. On one side is the lovable, gregarious, socially skilled, philanthropic Bernie. On the other is the crusty, mean-spirited, asocial, and stingy Mrs. Nugent. It's the tale of colliding elements, the old unstoppable force versus the immovable object, but here the story not one of basic physics but rather complex human interaction. What happens when a kindly soul with a penchant for making people smile becomes involved with a grouchy old lady? The story yields a classic Black Comedy landscape, the quintessential small-town tale even with the backwards details of the the villain being the victim and the perpetrator the hero. Even as the story unfolds, audiences -- and the townsfolk -- cannot help but love Bernie, no matter what he may or may not do not out of rage or hate or from the depths of a dark heart, but only in an accidental slip-up, a one-time mistake that cannot fundamentally alter one's perception of him. Bernie's tale is like that of the lovable pet that accidentally pees all over a brand new pair of $2000 alligator skin boots. It's a tragedy, but a lifetime's worth of love and good behavior simply overwhelm the realities of a single mishap. Yet there's no denying the crime, no hiding the truth, no forgetting the moment. It comes down to a question not of guilt or even motive, but the proper punishment to fit the crime. For Bernie, no amount of friendliness, helpfulness, care, talent, love, or philanthropy could save him from facing the possibility of a punishment befitting his crime.
Richard Linklater (A Scanner Darkly) directs efficiently and with a straightforward, unassuming approach that allows the story to unfold before the camera, oftentimes in a Documentary style that sees the townsfolk giving color to the story, not spelling out the specifics but shading in the details in a rather direct sort of manner. They're unique and, for folks outside of rural America, probably the type they're not used to seeing. The local flavor and personal interjections greatly help define the movie, for it's not just a tale of a man but of a man and his surroundings, and it's his involvement in the area and with the people that's really at the center of the story. Jack Black is marvelous in the film and shows why he's easily one of the most under-appreciated actors of his generation, more than a funny man but an actor who can uncannily fill any shoe and capture with believable nuance the intricacies of any sort of character. Black's take on Bernie is perfect from the opening absorbing moments as he lays out the basics of mortuary science by spelling out in a straightforward but cordial manner the somewhat morbid process of trimming nails, removing hair, gluing eyelids and lips, applying makeup, and positioning the body. Black carries the character with a respect and air of confidence, playing an unabashed community leader sort who could have won a mayoral election in a landslide with a handshake and a smile. He makes Bernie the ultimate trustworthy, friendly, talented, and helpful individual, a real community cog and a lovable person, all of which make the turning point so fascinating, for he never really leaves character but makes what he does almost a natural progression of his personality, a means of warding off what's holding him back from being the man he is and doing the things he loves. It's the sort of performance that will dazzle audiences as it's shaped and unfolds within the confines of the plot. Black is marvelous, giving his best effort since King Kong and one of the year's finest performances. Bernie is also the beneficiary of several other wonderful performances from a transformed Matthew McConaughey (who looks straight out of the 1970s), Shirley MacLaine as Mrs. Nugent, Michael Emerson lookalike Richard Robichaux, and Sling Blade's Rick Dial as funeral parlor owner Don Leggett.
Bernie Blu-ray, Video Quality
Bernie arrives on Blu-ray with a very stable, bright, slightly warm, and strongly detailed 1080p, 1.78:1-framed transfer. Audiences will appreciate the HD video source's crispness, color, and attention to detail. Never does the film go HD soft, flat, or glossy. It's impressive work, very accurate and well-defined, with abundant sharpness and true-to-life details. The transfer handles the usual array of elements such as facial lines and clothing textures with remarkable precision. Close-ups of the corpse as seen at the beginning of the movie startle with the intricate fine lines and facial hairs evident on the pale body. All of the East Texas interviewees wear heavily textured clothes, and their surroundings offer some startling eye candy that's not only very well detailed, but also abundantly colorful. Millennium's transfer offers an impressive color palette that's as stable and rich as the detailing. Though it's certainly on the warm side -- warmer inside than outside -- the palette is consistently bright, varied, and true. Additionally, there's no problematic banding, blocky backgrounds, or other unwanted eyesores often found in digital photography. In short, this is a wonderful, balanced, and eye-catching transfer.
Bernie Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Bernie's Dolby TrueHD 5.1 lossless soundtrack suits the dialogue-heavy material well. It's a classic "unmemorable" soundtrack that performs admirably but without much flair for the dramatic. There's the expected upper-end clarity but not a lot of energy. It handles light sound effects, such as the rumbling of a car engine as heard inside the vehicle, with the expected amount of oomph and realism. Chapter five finds some hefty bass and good, well-defined music. Much of the track is limited to the front half of the stage; the surrounds are sparsely utilized in any capacity. The hushed sounds of people shifting and whispering and turning their heads in otherwise quiet church, funeral, or courtroom scenes do well enough to give the listening audience a sense of the environment. The church service and funeral songs do enjoys good presence and accuracy and such are the sonic highlight of the film. Dialogue is even and focused up the middle. This is a good but unremarkable track that serves the movie nicely.
Bernie Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Sadly, Bernie comes up a bit short in terms of its extras. Here's what's included:
Bernie Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Bernie is a truly marvelous film, the sort that should be more prevalent in cinema but that's often lost in the shuffle behind big-budget effects blockbusters. It's an absorbingly simple story of two very different people, the collision of clashing personalities, and the inability of the humble, kindly, gregarious, but in many ways subservient individual to escape from gradually being locked down and practically enslaved by the overpowering hoarder of admiration and kindness, who repays but doesn't repay in kind. It's a remarkably fascinating picture, very well made, superbly acted, and engrossing from start to finish. It's the sort of movie one wishes was longer, if only to further relish the performances, become more enveloped in the setting, to absorb more of the story. As it is, Bernie is a nearly perfect little film, one not to be missed in the deluge of lesser movies. Millennium Entertainment's Blu-ray release of Bernie features standout video, solid audio, and a few good supplements. Highly recommended.
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• Bernie Blu-ray - June 26, 2012
In August, Millennium Home Media will bring Bernie to Blu-ray. Directed by Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused), this blackly comic docudrama tells the story of Bernie Tiede (Jack Black, High Fidelity), the gentle assistant funeral director in Carthage, Texas, ...
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