Richard Linklater’s 2011 film Bernie is an underseen gem in a career full of them, a true-crime comedy that uses a combination of actors and real-life witnesses to tell the story of a conservative Texas community grappling with the news that one of its most-loved citizens, closeted gay funeral director Bernie Tiede, murdered his closest friend, the ornery widow Marjorie Nugent. It’s a classic small-town yarn, distinguished by its blend of fiction and documentary techniques and its affection for Tiede (Jack Black, doing his best work), who is portrayed as a conflicted guy who takes the wrong way out a difficult relationship.
It seems that affection extends beyond the film, as the Texas Tribune reports that Tiede, who’s been serving a life sentence since 1997, may receive an early release based on a hearing scheduled for next Tuesday. That hearing is set to include testimony from Linklater, and if Tiede is released, he’ll even move in with Linklater at the director’s home in Austin while undergoing counseling.
Inspired by a 1998 article in Texas Monthly, Linklater’s film brought attention back to Tiede’s case, resulting in new evidence—including Tiede’s childhood sexual abuse—which could reclassify the murder as a “crime of passion,” which carries a lighter sentence.
“I’m not telling you I like it, but there’s not much I can do about it now,” said District Attorney Danny Buck Davidson, who was played in the film by Matthew McConaughey (and whose words you will now read in McConaughey’s voice). Davidson, who oversaw Tiede’s original conviction, said he will be filing an affidavit in support of the sentencing reduction and of Linklater’s involvement, based on the new evidence regarding Tiede’s childhood. However, he cautioned that he doesn’t think the people in Tiede’s hometown will be too pleased.
“People here don’t want him walking the streets of Carthage,” Davidson added, still sounding exactly like Matthew McConaughey in your head. “He’s going to become integrated into the gay community in Austin. Then he won’t have to live the closeted life of a gay person.”
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