Sunday, May 27, 2012

Richard Linklater: Bernie

Shirley MacLaine, Jack Black, Bernie, Millennium Films, 2012.

Fantastically blurring the line between narrative and documentary film, American master Richard Linklater steeps us in the ardent mythos of a small Texas town; it proves to be one of the most original American films so far this year.

Adapting a true crime into a melange of talking head first person narrative (which turns out to be documentary) and darkly comedic human drama, Linklater blends it all together brilliantly. Dick Pope, his cinematographer, captures the idyllic dead end town with a soft visual grace.

Jack Black gives his finest performance in the title role. As the fastidious, always smiling Bernie, an is he or isn't he undertaker who takes a shine to all of the old widows in his town, Black has never before inhabited a character with quite this stunning conviction. His questionable relationship with the meanest, richest widow in town, Marjorie ( an acidic Shirley MacLaine) is told in teasingly elliptical fashion in accordance with the talking heads. Drawing engines of age, lust, greed, and definitions of good and evil, Linklater controls the proceedings with the grasp of a cinematic messiah.

As the tale unravels, it does lose traction as it sums up in police investigation (headed by a tongue firmly in cheek Matthew McConaughey) and courtroom dramatics. And yet, we never lose the feeling of total realization, even transformation, in Black's relentlessly upbeat turn; it is a thing of great wonder. Linklater's passion to tell a story visually with maximum impact, is a rare gift which is contagious to those with the inclination.

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