Bernie Tiede (Black) is a mortician who lands in Carthage, Texas and wows the townsfolk with his charisma and talent. He is empathic and charming, and the old ladies love him for it. He exhibits caring, heart-centered behaviors for the beloved and bereaved.
But like most of us, the ever-so-kind Bernie has a dark side. As part of his job, Bernie gives special attention to the widows, but pursues Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine) more tenaciously than usual. He and Marjorie are soon fast friends and travel in luxury throughout the states and around the world. However, he becomes exasperated by Marjorie’s splenetic temperament and, in a moment’s impulse, picks up a rifle and shoots her in the back.
The townsfolk don’t believe it. Bernie would never do a thing like that. They are all hoping he’ll be let off. The townspeople have no affection for Mrs. Nugent, the grouch, anyway.
In an ironic twist of courtroom justice, the trial is moved into a small town 50 miles away so that the deceased could get a fair trial. Had the jury been populated with Carthage folks, they would not have allowed a conviction.
Marjorie’s choleric, bilious personality is always to be wondered about. Why would a woman be so crabby and unhappy? We get a clue when we see Marjorie brushing off the hands of the men who would cross such a boundary. This is most likely the vestiges of childhood sexual abuse. It’s such a shame that early abuse sets in stone a personality so alienating to children and grandchildren.
Matthew McConaughey plays “Danny Buck,” a totally unbelievable character; a shame considering he’s from East Texas. Linklater should have toned him down.
Jack Black’s performance was so fine-tuned and spot on that it deserves an Academy Award. His singing and his inflections are rich with religious East Texas culture. If you love old Baptist hymns you have to see Black sing them; he does a holy fine job.
Rated PG-13 for some violent images and strong language
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