Bernie was also a murderer, as it turned out, convicted in 1997 of killing an 81-year-old widow and stuffing her body in a meat freezer. But in the eyes of townsfolk, that didn’t make him any less lovable.
In Bernie, now playing, our antihero is played by Jack Black (Gulliver’s Travels), but it’s not the feisty, mugging Black you’re used to seeing. Affecting a fey Texas accent and dainty mannerisms that stop just short of caricature, he deftly plays against type, but with enough bottled-up edginess to hint at darker recesses under the Southern congeniality.
Director Richard Linklater (Me and Orson Welles) has made Bernie a low-key docudrama and sly black comedy, especially in his generous use of recollections by actual Carthage residents who knew both Bernie and Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine, Valentine’s Day), the mean — and very rich widow — he dispatched with a .22 rifle.
His consoling of Marjorie after her husband’s death had turned into a May-December courtship, despite the town’s widely held suspicions that he was gay. The two became inseparable, at least until she disappeared.
Buoyed by Black’s superb performance and a funny turn by Matthew McConaughey (The Lincoln Lawyer) as the district attorney flummoxed by the killer’s popularity, Bernie is a compelling hybrid of true crime and dark comedy.