Crime Story in Carthage, Texas


26 April 2012| No Comments on Bernie     by Sean Chavel


An under the radar masterpiece. Think of Bernie as the Texas’ “Fargo”. This is among the best work by writer-director Richard Linklater (“Before Sunrise”) and the most remarkable dramatic performance of Jack Black’s (“School of Rock”) career. Shirley MacClaine does bitter wonders in the part of an old meanie who drove her boyfriend Bernie, the most beloved resident in all of Carthage, Texas, to commit murder. This is one of those stranger than fiction tales that’s so outrageous it could have only been a true story.

Some reviews are going to tell you who Bernie Tiede ends up killing. I won’t even tell you whether it’s an accident or deliberate, that’s for you to decide. Bernie is the assistant director at the funeral home well-known for giving the most beautiful eulogies and send-offs to the deceased. All the little old ladies in town love him. Bernie also gets involved in choir, in the community theater and wherever else he can be a help.

Nearing 39-years old, Bernie is still an eligible bachelor. Many of the townspeople gossip on whether he’s gay or not. When he starts dating widow Marjorie Nugent (MacClaine), there exist discrepancies about his motives. As the richest old woman in town, Marjorie bankrolls many of Bernie’s pastimes. But she’d rather him not go after pilot wings. She’d rather not him use spare time to direct community theater. Marjorie needs this duck to pick up her laundry, manicure her nails, select her clothes, and eat with her at a designated time.

What makes the movie great are the interspersed collection of witnesses who recall Bernie (virtually all with fondness) and share their opinion of what happened. Linklater, a native Texan himself, has cast all real people and locals as participants. The result is an authentic Texas twang that is missing from most other movies about Texas. These people are the salt of the earth real thing.

For a good nugget of star power, Matthew McConaughey plays a man of the people-type District Attorney. He is the one outspoken figure who doesn’t like Bernie’s fancy-schmanz personality – he’s out to hang Bernie by the law. The question as to whether Bernie was a schnook or a malicious social schemer is one to ponder. But unlike say William H. Macy’s Bill Lundergaard in “Fargo,” Black plays Bernie as a nervous nellie who never puts greed first. He’s that rare, loveable, apologetic criminal. Still, he does his best to hide his tracks.

Something wonderfully reassuring occurs when you see Jack Black meet the real Bernie Tiede at the end credits. Black obviously got to know the man he was playing real well, and the impersonation is more than skin deep. This movie knows its people so intuitively that it reminded me of Errol Morris documentaries like “Gates of Heaven” and “Vernon, Florida.” It’s that stunning.

104 Minutes. Rated PG-13.


Film Cousins: “Gates of Heaven” (1978); “Vernon, Florida” (1981); “To Die For” (1995); “Fargo” (1996).


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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.


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