Bernie is the new masterpiece by Richard Linklater. The fact that he could turn such a difficult premise to such a successful black comedy/drama is remarkable. This may be one of the greatest works on small-town America in this decade. Though Bernie may not have the breadth of a work like Fargo, it does magic in how it tells its story.
Really, the most fascinating thing about Bernie is the way the story is told. Rather than give us a linear story, Bernie story is mostly retold by the residents of Carthage, TX who were witnessed to the gruesome events that occurred in this innocent town. This style can backfire gloriously if these characters are too animated, but Linklater strikes the right tone. With a Texan accent and some Southern innocence, these characters all suit the benefits the main story line. He seamlessly alternates between the world of the main characters and residents. This is very competent screenwriting as Linklater only uses his main characters when they are necessary, and allows the residents of Carthage to do the main storytelling. This is a welcome retreat from heavy-set narration of many Hollywood movies, especially some master filmmakers like Woody Allen.
The movie is amazing because it centers on a murder that is hard to condemn like a CSI episode and the intent not dissimilar to Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment. What makes the crime difficult to assess is that most of what the audience knows from Bernie is from the residents of Carthage, TX. We do not know Bernie as well as they do, and have to assume that their judgments are sound and not simplistic or based on a façade generated by Bernie himself. The film has been the subject of controversy by the way it portrays the murder, but if it were completely accurate to the conditions of the crime, the audience would not have such ambiguous feelings about the crime committed. In that case, Bernie would become another lunatic who murdered an innocent. What Linklater does is much more than that.
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