Studio: Millennium Entertainment
Directed by Richard Linklater
Apr 26, 2012 Web Exclusive
Richard Linklater has traversed a stunning stylistic breadth over a sublime filmmaking career spanning more than two decades. Be it the miasmatic sprawl of his ode to college town ennui in Slacker, the wide-eyed, switchblade to the heart romance of the diptych Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, or the existential dread cloaked in the futuristic mind-fucks Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly, his sheer audacity has differentiated him from his peers. Even when he fails, as he has with the ham-fisted Me and Orson Welles and the over-reaching Fast Food Nation, he's nonetheless swung for the fences with crashing ambitions.
Bernie, his 15th feature film, is therefore disappointing for the get-go, in that it feels oddly safe for the iconoclastic visionary. It does feature superb acting, particularly from Jack Black as the flamboyantly affable titular funeral director Bernie Tiede, and Matthew McConaughey as the tempestuous district attorney Danny Buck Davidson.
Based on the true story of Tiede's murder of the obdurate widow Marjorie Nugent, depicted with icy, detached malevolence by Shirley MacLaine, the film has all the ingredients to become a Linklater classic. To use an analog to Robert Altman, this is Linklater's Cookie's Fortune, a film revolving around small town politics, and how perceptions create reality.
But while Altman used conventional storytelling devices with the visceral effect of a gut punch, Linklater equivocates, dancing around the topic at hand, and grappling with what's seemingly real, and how something as simple as a change in venue during a trial can shape the amorphous truth, finding a thematic parallel in the aforementioned Waking Life. And despite its inherent flaws, the film is an engrossing watch. It just isn't one you'll want to watch again. But Linklater has achieved much greater successes in the past and likely will surpass this career nadir in the future. He's too brilliant not to. (bernie-the-movie.com)
Author rating: 4/10
Average reader rating: 4/10
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