This is the last night of the Dallas International Film Festival and the feeling of the exercise winding down has just not appeared. The Angelika theater was packed with a large amount of film fans trying to get one last look at some new feature. Even though the competition is over, the search for another cinema experience is still in full bloom. The enthusiasm of the patrons has not wavered in the last ten days.
On the recommendation of my friend John ‘Doc’ Strange, I decided to take in Bernie, a film not listed when the DIFF program was released. It is the newest feature by Richard Linklater, the director of Dazed and Confused, Before Sunrise and The School of Rock.
Bernie is a film about East Texas. Based on a true story, it is the tale of Bernie (Jack Black) a mortician’s assistant who taken up with an older widow (Shirley MacLaine). The old woman is as mean as Bernie is sweet. In a moment of weakness, Bernie shoots her in the back four times. Then for the next nine months, he covers up the crime and becomes a generous benefactor for the town.
When the district attorney (Matthew McConaughey) discovers the murder, he takes the unusual position of moving the trial because he knows that the entire town will acquit Bernie. Bernie is as beloved by the entire town and the old woman was despised. The story is told as a documentary, with interviews by members of the town telling the tale between bits of action. It is a very dark comedy and one of the best films of the festival.
Bernie is one of the best performances of Jack Black’s career. He actually plays a character with sympathy and pathos. Instead of doing his regular shtick, he gives the audience a person they can relate to and sympathize with. It shows how well the actor has matured since his gonzo, over the top performances.
After the screening, the writer of both the screenplay and the original Texas Monthly article Skip Hollandsworth talked about the very difficult process of getting this film on screen. He described the serpentine journey of the last 14 years and the trials and tribulations of crafting a screenplay. Also on hand were some of the members of the cast, the people who played townsfolk.
The film is being released in a very limited run with the hopes that it will build enough buzz to get a wider berth of release. It is just the kind of film that needs both word of mouth and a groundswell of person to person recommendations. Bernie is a film that deserves a wide release.