Before Austin-born filmmaker Richard Linklater exploded into the mainstream with his critical darling Boyhood, he was still one of the most prolific writer/director's in the independent film scene. In 2011, Linklater wrote and directed the film Bernie, which is an absolute must see on Netflix.
Based on true events, Bernie takes place in small-town East Texas, about a mortician named Bernie (played by Jack Black) being put on trial by hot shot lawyer Danny Buck (Matthew McConaughey) for the murder of an older rich woman he had a questionable relationship with (played by the legendary Shirley MacLaine). The film is a mix of both narrative and documentary with Linklater interviewing people from the actual events combined with the narrative elements of the build up to and the eventual trial.
What makes Bernie all the more timely is that it covers the true crime tales that have become a hot commodity now thanks to American Crime, True Detective, The Jynx, and Making a Murderer, but when it originally came out the film received little to no praise, especially from outside the independent community.
The film contains some fantastic performances, especially from Jack Black in arguably the best performance of his career. He is constantly toeing the line between irresistibly charming, silly, dark, and bottled up with constant stress and paranoia. It lets Black exude both his best qualities, as well as aspects of a performance he has been unable to do before that.
The character of Bernie is extraordinarily fascinating in his own right. Where most of these true crime cases have "protagonists" who continually dispute their innocence, Bernie never pretends he is innocent, and it is never put to question for the audience as to whether or not he did the crime. Yet, much like how OJ Simpson is being portrayed in The People V. OJ Simpson, the charm of Bernie makes people love him so deeply in the story that they're blinded by his absolute guilt.
This lovable quality bleeds into real life, as the actual Bernie whom the film was based on was released from prison in 2014 and subsequently moved into an apartment above the garage of director Richard Linklater; this is how much people liked him.
Linklater's backlog filmography has gone sorely unnoticed, and with Bernie currently on Instant View on Netflix, I cannot recommend it enough. Check it out for yourself!