Bernie 2011 ★★★★

I have always loved Richard Linklater, for his way with offbeat dialogue, for his willingness to test the limits of film structure, for the down-home charm so many of his movies exude. All of those qualities are present in spades in the director's latest, Bernie, a morbidly fascinating semi-narrative/semi-documentary/semi-mockumentary (did I mention this thing was inventive?) that revels in ambiguity, both toward its characters and toward the morality of its central events. I like Jack Black, especially in High Fidelity and School of Rock, but even in those films, you always got the sense that he was kind of playing himself; here, for possibly the first time, that isn't the case at all. He uses his physical attributes and sly comic timing to create a completely original character in Bernie Tiede, a man whose sincerity and dedication gradually become the very things that could point to a more disingenuous, potentially malicious side of his personality. Matthew McConaughey also shines, bringing the same kind of energy and misguided swagger to D.A. Danny Buck that made him the standout in this year's Magic Mike. Entertaining, funny, and just the slightest bit chilling, Bernie is a definite winner and yet another feather in Linklater's cap.

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