Review: Bernie

Here lies a veritable black comedy about the 1996 murder of Marjorie Nugent, an 81-year-old millionaire in Carthage, Texas, by Bernhardt ‘Bernie’ Tiede. This semi-biographical, quasi-mockumentary is a peculiar film which ultimately suffers from narrative rigor mortis.

Bernie

Jack Black is Bernie, a mortician and beloved member of small-town Carthage. A friendly, if somewhat effeminate man, Bernie decides to undertake (pun intended) the task of befriending local millionaire Marjorie (MacLaine), much to the chagrin of the community who widely consider her to be colder than Bernie’s clientele. A task which proves to be a grave mistake.

Richard Linklater is no stranger to directing dramas founded on true stories, as his previous collaboration with Matthew McConaughey,The Newton Boys, will attest. He supplements this docudrama with interviews from the Texan townspeople, some of whom are playing themselves. The procession of gossip that accompanies is embalmed with subtle humour and truths, giving the sense that you are genuinely eavesdropping, whilst chronicling the events leading up to Bernie’s murder of the wealthy widow. The rest is history. No, really.

Unfortunately, despite a few droll instances, Bernie is largely unfunny. Indeed, the largest nail in this film’s proverbial coffin is that for large portions it is sinfully boring, despite Black’s over-zealous attempts to hold your undivided attention. Perhaps this is simply a case of an intriguing tale not translating particularly well to the big screen. Likewise, perhaps this is a film which appeals for the most part to the American audiences who were already familiar with the story. Either way, British audiences won’t exactly be dying from laughter.

Much credit to Black though, who gives one his best performances to date, earning himself a Golden Globe nomination for this inspired portrayal of the infamous funeral director, ranging from the genial, all-singing citizen to the repentant defendant seen in the latter half. If not for this miraculous casting choice, Bernie would be left six feet under similar counterparts.

However, at the bare bones of this tragicomedy is a unique tale which inevitably will be lost in translation as it crosses the Atlantic onto UK shores, which may explain the prolonged delay since its 2011 premiere. While it can be said to be an interesting slice of American gothic, it is hard to warm to the eponymous character, and the slow pace only exacerbates the pervading apathy, which may bore some to death.

6/10

Review: The Place Beyond The Pines

Pining for Gosling? Here’s just the place.

The Place Beyond the Pines

Ryan Gosling’s second collaboration with Director Derek Cianfrance, The Place Beyond The Pines is an audacious outing which explores themes of fatalism and fatherhood. This powerful crime drama is a grandiose vision reminiscent of Crash (2004), interweaving stories of love, loss and redemption, supported by outstanding acting performances from two of the hottest leading men in Hollywood.

Gosling and (Bradley) Cooper live two parallel lives. One is Luke Glanton, a motorcycle stuntman who descends into a hedonistic life of crime, robbing banks to provide for his son and ex-lover Eva Mendes. The other is an honest cop, Officer Avery Cross, whose moral integrity is compromised as he becomes embroiled in the corruption of the police department.

The Place Beyond the Pines is a melancholy triptych: a tale of three parts. The pines, the place, and the place beyond. The encounter between the characters is tragically brief, but this brief tragedy bears ramifications for the remainder of the film as an inevitable butterfly effect gradually unfurls. The idiosyncratic Gosling, most notably, is sublime.

Cianfrance grabs you by the scruff of your neck, dragging you face-first into Schenectady. Your eyes soon peel back like Alex in A Clockwork Orange; you can‘t look away, and you won’t miss a single feeling or expression. Raw emotions are exposed like frayed wires as the camera lingers upon character’s faces, as if almost waiting longingly for a reaction. Not since Blue Valentine has cinema felt so invasive, so intimate.

Gosling is quickly becoming affiliated with atmospheric music, like the towering Drive soundtrack, and Pines features an equally poignant score by Mike Patton, supplementing the sweeping cinematography and heartfelt emotions perfectly. And from Bruce Springsteen to Bon Iver, this soundtrack is a real feat in its own right.

Contrary to Crash, this isn’t merely a circumstantial window into multiple lives. Instead, it tries to tell so much in so little time that certain roads feel left unexplored. The latter half of the film in particular suffers from misdirection and the ephemeral moments of ennui that accompany, but paying attention pays dividends, and when the plot gets back on track it soon gathers an emotional crescendo culminating in a gripping second climax.

Unlike the protagonist’s chiseled torso and exquisite facial features, this film isn’t a demonstration of perfection. But beyond the narrative flaws, and this reviewer’s questionable sexuality regarding the aforementioned comments about Gosling, lies a compelling story with real depth and gravitas which grapples with issues of morality and illustrates the cyclical nature of life.

 8/10