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January 2, 2012
Bernie Blu-Ray Review
Cinema Release Blu-Ray Release Distributor Director
16/8/201226/12/2012MadmanRichard Linklater
Video Codec Sound Format OFLC Rating Star(s)
AVC MPEG-4Dolby TrueHD 5.1MJack Black

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Bernie Tiede is played (superbly) by Jack Black.

Over a year I must watch hundreds of movies, and while I have a pretty wide taste in films, whenever a "True Story" comes across my desk it generates immediate interest. Sure films based on true events can vary from highly accurate, to only loosely based on with a few similarities. This film is in the former category, with considerable accuracy to real events...

The story of Bernie takes place in the tiny town of Carthage, Texas, assistant funeral director Bernie Tiede (Jack Black) is one of the town's most beloved residents. Bernie befriends Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine), a sour and affluent older widow. Soon Bernie and Marjorie become inseparable and Marjorie becomes very dependent on Bernie, stifling his extroverted personality. Bernie is forced to quit his job and philanthropic activities in the community, leaving him deflated. Then things suddenly get better for Bernie and he seems his old generous self, while Marjorie is mysteriously absent. When Marjorie is discovered to have been dead for months Bernie Tiede is charged with murder, to the great surprise of the local community.

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Bernie as an assistant funeral director.
While I don't dislike him, it's fair to say I'm not big a fan of Jack Black. Sure, there have been some decent roles - his turn as Carl in King Kong was a highlight of the film - but his turn here as Bernie is superb as he turns from the most loved person in town, to a murderer and then a deceptive and manipulative criminal. Shirley MacLaine is also superb as Marjorie and despite being rather cold, just like the real-life person, is a perfect match to Jack Black. Finally Matthew McConaughey puts in a fine performance as District Attorney Danny Buck Davidson who sets out to convict Bernie - this coming in the same year as his stellar performance in Killer Joe.

One of the most interesting aspects of this film is using the real townsfolk are used in many interviews giving their impressions on Bernie as a person, and their thoughts about the murder. If anything though there can possibly be too many of these interviews - I'm guessing possibly a third of the films runtime, and in particular in the first half of the film before the murder when people heap continual praise on the much loved man - but it does at least give the film a more realistic, almost documentary styled feel to it.

Bernie isn't what you'd call a "fun" film to watch, there's no razzle dazzle, the storyline is pretty slow, and the the trial at the end is a bit too short but it's a pretty interesting film with brilliant performances from the two leads in particular. Worth a watch? Yar, probably, but just don't go looking for something to get the heart pumping.

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Shirley MacLaine plays the widow Marjorie Nugent.
Bernie is presented on Blu-Ray in the film’s original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and has been encoded using the AVC MPEG-4 video codec. There is nothing spectacular about this film in terms of visuals - the colours are often rather muted, and the film doesn't have any big car chases or explosions to provide any Hollywood gloss. Having said that, on a technical level Bernie's transfer to Blu-Ray is still a very polished affair with a very high bitrate which allows the 1080p transfer to exhibit plenty of fine detail, solid (natural) colour reproduction, and retention of detail in the darker scenes as well.

Bernie is very much a dialogue driven film with little use of surround sounds, thumping music, or bass so there's no surprise that the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 doesn't really set our brand new surround sound speaker set alight. Still dialogue is very clear at all times, despite the wide range of non-actors providing comments through the film too.

The back of the case for Bernie lists a second audio track - that being a Linear PCM 2.0 option however when we switched to this track we found it was a Dolby Digital 2.0 track at 256kbps - so not quite as exciting as the lossless track would have been. Still, it's acceptable if you only want stereo output. The disc contains a single subtitle track - English Captions for the Hard of Hearing and as one would expect it's gets the job done as expected.

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Bernie and Marjorie become great friends.
Upon starting the Blu-Ray disc for Bernie you will presented with several trailers including Storm Surfers The Movie in 3D (3:19), Paul Kelly: Stories of Me (2:17). There are a couple of other Bernie related extras on the disc however...

True Story to Film (9:27): This featurette sees the filmmakers discussing the creation of this film, but how they discovered the source material, meeting the locals, being present at the trial and converting the story to film.

Amazing Grace (7:16): This featurette looks at Jack Black's performance as Bernie, including the amount of rehearsals prior to filming, and Jack Black's ability to sing for the film.

The Gossips (12:59): This featurette focuses on the townsfolk that were talking about Bernie and the murder during the casting calls. Despite the variable video quality it's great to hear a bit more from the townsfolk - in fact it's probably more interesting than many of the inserts seen in the feature film.

Deleted Scenes (10:44): Here we have a series of deleted scenes for the film. There's not too much here of any merit, and it's clear these were cut for pacing in a film that struggled to keep moving at times.

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Matthew plays the local district attorney.
Theatrical Trailer (2:03/HD): No surprises here, this is the Theatrical Trailer for the film which is actually quite well presented and gives a good overview of the film.

Madman Propaganda (6:53/HD): Here we have a series of Trailers for other Madman films. After an anti-piracy trailer (0:35) first up is a trailer for Everything Must Go (2:30) which stars Will Ferrell and looks decent, The Hunter (1:49) which is a pretty great looking Australian film with Sam Neill and Willem Dafoe, and Submarine (1:59).

There's no doubt that Jack Black's performance in Bernie is a highlight of the film, which is a look at one of the most interesting cases in recent history. With a solid transfer to Blu-Ray and some decent extras Bernie is a release worth checking out.

Review By: Dave Warner


Note: All images in this article are Copyright© Universal. They are only indicative of the movie and not sourced from the vastly superior Blu-Ray disc format.