Bernie (2011 film)

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Bernie film poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRichard Linklater
Produced by
Screenplay by
Based onMidnight in the Garden of East Texas
by Skip Hollandsworth
Music byGraham Reynolds
CinematographyDick Pope
Edited bySandra Adair
Distributed byMillennium Entertainment
Release date
  • June 16, 2011 (2011-06-16) (LAFF[1])
  • April 27, 2012 (2012-04-27) (United States)
Running time
99 minutes[2]
CountryUnited States
Budget$6 million[3]
Box office$10.1 million[3]

Bernie is a 2011 American dark comedy film directed by Richard Linklater, written by Linklater and Skip Hollandsworth. The film stars Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine and Matthew McConaughey. It is based on a 1998 Texas Monthly magazine article by Hollandsworth, "Midnight in the Garden of East Texas,"[4] that chronicles the 1996 murder of 80-year-old millionaire Marjorie Nugent in Carthage, Texas by her 39-year-old companion,[5] Bernhardt "Bernie" Tiede. Tiede proved so highly regarded in Carthage that, in spite of Tiede's confession to the police, the district attorney was eventually forced to request a rare prosecutorial change of venue in order to get an impartial jury.

The film received critical acclaim for its direction, accuracy to the real-life event, "Town Gossips" element, and particular praise for Jack Black's portrayal of Tiede, with many calling it his best performance to date.[6][7][8][9]


In small-town Carthage, Texas in 1996, local assistant mortician Bernie Tiede, a beloved member of the community, becomes the only friend of the wealthy, recently widowed Marjorie Nugent, whom the townsfolk consider cold and unpleasant. Tiede, in his late 30s, and the elderly Nugent quickly become inseparable, frequently traveling and lunching together, though Tiede's social life becomes hindered by Nugent's constant and sometimes abusive need for his attention.

Tiede murders Nugent after growing weary of the emotional toll of her possessiveness, persistent nagging, and non-stop putdowns. For nine months, Tiede takes advantage of her poor reputation to excuse her absence with few questions while using her money to support local businesses and neighbors. Finally, Nugent's stockbroker uses Tiede's neglect of previously agreed-upon payments to enlist the help of her estranged family. This results in an authorized police search of her house that concludes with the discovery of Nugent's corpse in a freezer chest.

The local district attorney, Danny Buck Davidson, charges Tiede with first-degree (premeditated) murder. Tiede is arrested and he soon confesses that he killed Nugent while claiming her emotional abuse as a mitigating circumstance. Despite this confession, many citizens of Carthage still rally to Tiede's defense, with some even asserting that Nugent deserved to die. Frustrated, Davidson successfully requests a change of venue to the town of San Augustine, 50 miles away, to avoid selecting a biased jury. Despite the absence of evidence of premeditation, Tiede is found guilty as charged and imprisoned for life.


  • Matthew McConaughey as Danny Buck Davidson
  • Jack Black as Bernie Tiede
  • Shirley MacLaine as Marjorie "Margie" Nugent
  • Brady Coleman as Scrappy Holmes
  • Richard Robichaux as Lloyd Hornbuckle
  • Rick Dial as Don Leggett
  • Brandon Smith as Sheriff Huckabee
  • Larry Jack Dotson as the Rev. Woodard
  • Merrilee McCommas as Molly
  • Mathew Greer as Carl
  • Gabriel Luna as Kevin
  • Kay Epperson as Townsperson (spoke with Bernie in prison scene)
  • Sonny Carl Davis as Townsperson


Principal photography took 22 days,[1] during September–October 2010, in Bastrop, Smithville, Georgetown, Lockhart, Carthage and Austin, Texas.[citation needed]

The film creates uncertainty by mixing documentary conventions with fictional elements. There are talking-head interviews with Carthage townspeople; some of the talking heads are performers, while some are townspeople playing themselves.[1]

Linklater said the screenplay that he co-wrote with Skip Hollandsworth was a boring read, and that "the gossip element almost kept the film from being made, because it reads boring. I said, 'But they’ll be funny characters. I could just imagine the accents.'”[10]


The film's world premiere was the opening-night film of the 2011 Los Angeles Film Festival. Millennium Entertainment released the film on April 27, 2012.[11]


Critical response[edit]

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an 89% "Certified Fresh" rating, based on 154 reviews, with an average rating of 7.5/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Richard Linklater's Bernie is a gently told and unexpectedly amusing true-crime comedy that benefits from an impressive performance by Jack Black".[12] On Metacritic, the film has a 75 out of 100, based on 35 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[13]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times enjoyed the film, giving it 3.5 stars out of 4. He praised Jack Black's performance as well as Linklater's direction, saying "His genius was to see Jack Black as Bernie Tiede."[14]

Critic Jonathan Rosenbaum called the film a masterpiece, describing it as a companion piece to Linklater's 1998 film The Newton Boys and saying the writing is "so good that the humor can’t be reduced to simple satire; a whole community winds up speaking through the film, and it has a lot to say. In fact, it’s hard to think of many other celebrations of small-town American life that are quite as rich, as warm, and as complexly layered, at least within recent years."[15]

In a positive review in Slate, Dana Stevens lauded the performances of the three leads, saying that both Black and McConaughey are at their best when working with Linklater. But she reserved her highest praise for "the good people of Carthage, who, sitting on porches or the hoods of their cars, recount the strange story of Bernie Tiede and Marjorie Nugent".[16]

Marc Savlov of The Austin Chronicle said:

If I hadn't already read Skip Hollandsworth's Texas Monthly article recounting the tragicomic tale of Carthage's assistant funeral director Bernie Tiede, I'd swear this film adaptation was based on one of Joe R. Lansdale's East Texas gothics. As ever, truth proves itself stranger than fiction and the human heart (which is stranger and more inscrutable than anything). And Jack Black redeems himself (for Gulliver's Travels, among other things) with a subtly quirky performance that's one of his personal best.[17]

Gregory Ellwood of HitFix said the film is "not as funny as Linklater wants it to be...". But he went on to praise Black's performance: "Black is simply great... making you believe someone like Bernie could really exist and while accenting his funny characteristics also portraying him as three-dimensional character."[18]

Eric Kohn of indieWIRE called it "an oddly endearing love letter to Southern eccentricities". He found the film hard to categorize, saying: "Bernie is a shape-shifting genre vehicle set apart from anything else in Linklater’s career. There’s a loose sensibility to this mockumentary—mysterious comedy? comedic mystery? It’s tough to categorize as anything beyond an enjoyable experience."[19]

Mary Pols, writing in Time, gave the film an unfavorable review: "You would be hard pressed to find a film that feels more true to a reporter’s experience of an event. This isn’t necessarily a good thing, at least not cinematically... The movie translation is playful and cunning but never escapes the reportorial trap; observation after the fact rarely matches the energy of experience... The big problem with playing this same note over and over again is that while the pairing of a 81-year-old harridan and the 39-year-old effeminate mensch, whether off on a cruise together or dining at the local taqueria, may sound funny, it’s mostly just sad."[20]

Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly named the film one of the top ten films of 2012 calling it a "deviously droll light-comic tabloid docudrama".[21]

Local response[edit]

The making of the film, based on an article in Texas Monthly magazine by Skip Hollandsworth, who also co-wrote the comedic film with Linklater, divided citizens of Carthage, Texas, the small town in East Texas where the Nugent murder occurred. In the film, Linklater includes interviews with several Carthage residents about their feelings of support for Bernie Tiede. Some citizens hope the film will stimulate an increase in tourism, while others have voiced anger that a comedy film was derived from the events surrounding the murder of an 81-year-old woman.

"You can't make a dark comedy out of a murder," says Panola County District Attorney Danny Buck Davidson (portrayed in the film by McConaughey). "This movie is not historically accurate," adds Davidson, who says that Nugent's story is missing. "The movie does not tell her side of the story."[22]

"If it was fiction it might be funny, but this was a real person in a real town and no, I don't think it's funny at all," says Carthage resident Toni Clements who knew both Tiede and Nugent.[22]

Owners of the Hawthorn Funeral Home in Carthage, Texas, where Bernie Tiede met Marjorie Nugent, refused to allow the film to use the name of the funeral home in the movie. “We felt we did not want the Hawthorn Funeral Home name or family name thought of in a dark comedy... you always know locally these are real people and families so there is a sting.”[23]

"I've now seen the movie Bernie twice and, except for a few insignificant details ... it tells the story pretty much the way it happened," Joe Rhodes, Nugent's nephew, wrote in The New York Times Magazine shortly before the film's general release. His cousin Rod, Nugent's only child, did not return his calls and had his lawyer send Rhodes a letter strongly insinuating the possibility of legal action. "I guarantee he won't like it."[24]


Having seen the film, Austin-based attorney Jodi Cole met with the director, Richard Linklater, for further information. After meeting with Tiede at the prison, she began work on a habeas corpus petition in his case, raising issues not addressed in his previous direct appeal.[25] Tiede was released from his life sentence on $10,000 bail in May 2014 with the condition that he live with Linklater in Austin, Texas.[26] Nugent's granddaughter expressed shock that the release was granted, citing the influence of the film's depiction of Tiede.[27]

On January 2, 2015, an Austin, Texas news channel reported that the district attorney agreed to release Bernie Tiede and was not ruling out a future prosecution. Panola County prosecutor Danny Buck Davidson said that he met members of Marjorie Nugent's family, and that the film led to successful efforts to have Tiede released early from a life sentence. Out on bond, Tiede was due back in court March 2015. Davidson eventually agreed that Tiede was wrongly sentenced for first-degree murder when he deserved a lesser sentence. On April 22, 2016, after a resentencing hearing in Henderson, Texas, a jury deliberated for four-and-a-half hours, and Tiede was sentenced to serve a prison term of 99 years to life.[28]


Bernie earned nominations for Best Feature and Best Ensemble Performance at the 2012 Gotham Awards.[29] The film was nominated for Best Feature at the 2012 Independent Spirit Awards, while Black received a nomination for Best Male Lead.[30] The National Board of Review included Bernie in their Top 10 Independent Films.[31] The Broadcast Film Critics Association nominated Bernie for Best Comedy. Black earned a nomination for Best Actor in a Comedy, while MacLaine was nominated for Best Actress in a Comedy.[32]

A reader survey by the Los Angeles Times named it "most under-appreciated" film of 2012, from a shortlist of seven films selected by the newspaper.[33]

Bernie won Rotten Tomatoes' 14th annual Golden Tomato award for the best reviewed comedy released in 2012.[34]

Jack Black's performance as Bernie Tiede earned him a Golden Globe nomination.[35]

Matthew McConaughey's portrayal of Danny Buck Davidson received several nominations. He was named Best Supporting Actor by the New York Film Critics Circle[36] and by the National Society of Film Critics.[37]


  1. ^ The "Castle Rock Entertainment" logo and in-credit text does not appear in this film's opening.


  1. ^ a b c Zeitchik, Steven (June 16, 2011). "Los Angeles Film Festival: Richard Linklater stays provocative and independent with 'Bernie'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 1, 2011.
  2. ^ "BERNIE (12A)". British Board of Film Classification. March 22, 2013. Retrieved April 26, 2013.
  3. ^ a b "'Bernie' (2012)". The Numbers. Retrieved August 26, 2015.
  4. ^ Hollandsworth, Skip (January 1998). "Midnight in the Garden of East Texas". Texas Monthly. Retrieved April 5, 2016.
  5. ^ Associated Press with Sonny Bohanan (October 26, 1998). "Trial begins for man accused in death". Amarillo Globe-News. Archived from the original on September 19, 2012. Retrieved July 29, 2012.
  6. ^ Cater, Eleanor Ringel (May 31, 2012). "'Bernie' — Jack Black gives best performance of his career". Saporta Report. Retrieved March 15, 2017.
  7. ^ Queenan, Joe (July 26, 2012). "If Jack Black can make an excellent movie, surely anything is possible". The Guardian. Retrieved March 15, 2017.
  8. ^ Feinberg, Scott (October 13, 2012). "'Bernie' Star Jack Black Says He's a 'Clown' Who Also Wants to Be Taken Seriously". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved March 15, 2017.
  9. ^ Lumenick, Lou (April 27, 2012). "Comedy's got best Black humor of Jack's career". New York Post. Retrieved March 15, 2017.
  10. ^ Kohn, Eric (June 7, 2011). "INTERVIEW Richard Linklater: "I don't think I'll ever quit making movies"". indieWIRE. Retrieved April 10, 2012.
  11. ^ "Film Details". April 27, 2012. Archived from the original on July 3, 2012. Retrieved July 29, 2012.
  12. ^ "Bernie". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster, Inc. Retrieved September 9, 2012.
  13. ^ Bernie at Metacritic
  14. ^ Ebert, Roger. "Bernie Movie Review & Film Summary (2012) - Roger Ebert".
  15. ^ Rosenbaum, Jonathan (May 20, 2012). "Watch for BERNIE (upgraded)". Retrieved May 22, 2012.
  16. ^ Stevens, Dana (April 27, 2012). "Bernie, directed by Richard Linklater". Slate. Retrieved September 9, 2012.
  17. ^ Savlov, Marc (April 27, 2012). "Bernie". The Austin Chronicle. Retrieved July 29, 2012.
  18. ^ Ellwood, Gregory (June 17, 2011). "The Old Jack Black is Back..." HitFix. Retrieved July 29, 2012.
  19. ^ Kohn, Eric. "Richard Linklater's 'Bernie' Gives Jack Black His Most Original Role in Years". indieWIRE. Retrieved July 18, 2011.[permanent dead link]
  20. ^ Pols, Mary (April 25, 2012). "Bernie: (Jack) Black Comedy About Real-Life Murder". Time. Retrieved September 9, 2012.
  21. ^ Gleiberman, Owen (December 5, 2012). "10 Best Movies (and 5 Worst) of 2012: Owen Gleiberman's Picks: Photo 1 of 15". Retrieved January 8, 2013.
  22. ^ a b Hallmark, Bob (March 7, 2012). "Carthage residents react to Bernie movie". KLTV. Retrieved July 29, 2012.
  23. ^ McLane, Rodger G. (September 27, 2011). "Locals Attend Bernie Screening". Panola County Watchman. Archived from the original on December 26, 2011. Retrieved January 8, 2017.
  24. ^ Rhodes, Joe (April 15, 2012). "How My Aunt Marge Ended Up in the Deep Freeze ..." The New York Times Magazine. Retrieved April 18, 2012.
  25. ^ "Austin attorney takes interest in Bernie Tiede's murder case". Archived from the original on April 2, 2015. Retrieved March 26, 2015.
  26. ^ "Ex-Mortician Whose Killing of Widow Inspired Movie Freed Early". NBC News. Associated Press. May 6, 2014. Retrieved May 9, 2014.
  27. ^ Nicholson, Eric (May 7, 2014). "As 'Bernie' Goes Free, Victim's Granddaughter Says Hollywood Has Wrought an Injustice". Unfair Park. Dallas, Texas: Dallas Observer. Retrieved May 9, 2014.
  28. ^ Grissom, Brandi. "East Texas widow killer Bernie Tiede, subject of hit movie, gets 99 years to life in re-trial". The Dallas Morning News. Archived from the original on May 28, 2016.
  29. ^ Knegt, Peter; Smith, Nigel M (November 26, 2012). "'Moonrise Kingdom,' 'Beasts of the Southern Wild' Lead Gotham Award Winners". indieWire. SnagFilms. Retrieved November 27, 2012.
  30. ^ Harp, Justin (November 27, 2012). "'Moonrise Kingdom', 'Silver Linings' among Independent Spirit nominees". Digital Spy. Hearst Magazines UK. Retrieved November 27, 2012.
  31. ^ "Awards for 2012". National Board of Review. December 5, 2012. Archived from the original on June 12, 2010. Retrieved December 11, 2012.
  32. ^ "'Lincoln' leads the 18th Annual Critics' Choice Movie Awards nominations with a record 13 noms". Broadcast Film Critics Association. December 11, 2012. Retrieved December 11, 2012.
  33. ^ Zeitchik, Steven (December 26, 2012). "Jack Black's 'Bernie' is most underappreciated movie of 2012". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved January 8, 2013.
  34. ^ "The 14th Annual Golden Tomato Awards". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved August 20, 2013.
  35. ^ "'2013 Golden Globe Nominations". Retrieved January 19, 2013.
  36. ^ [1] Jordan Zakarin, Hollywood Reporter, "Lincoln Took Home Three Awards, Including Best Actor" (December 3, 2012)
  37. ^ [2] Susan King, Los Angeles Times "NSFC Names 'Amour' Best Film of 2012" (January 5, 2013)

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