Double The Fun
By Carl Kozlowski
“Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.”
That line came from writer Sir Walter Scott more than 200 years ago, but two unexpected art house-movie hits are proving that adage still holds true today. They also provide refreshingly unpredictable entertainment on a week when Johnny Depp teams up with director Tim Burton for what feels like their 50th collaboration in Dark Shadows, which looks like a rip-off of the Addams Family films.
Bernie has been tearing up the box office at a couple of theaters over the past couple of weekends, while also drawing some of the best reviews of the year. It marks the second collaboration between star Jack Black and director Richard Linklater, who together scored an $80 million hit with The School of Rock.
Both Black and Linklater have had a few ups and downs since then, with Black particularly embarrassing himself in the major flop Gulliver’s Travels. Thankfully in Bernie, he delivers a career-best performance that plays into his strengths as a triple-threat actor, singer and musician while serving as a revelation into his previously untapped potential that could even score him an Oscar nomination at year’s end.
Based on the true story of a rural Texas man named Bernie Tiede, who ingratiated himself to wealthy widows while running the most fabulous funeral home his small town had ever seen, Bernie deftly mixes dark comedy with slow-building thriller elements. That’s because Bernie gets particularly close to a widow named Marjorie Nugent, played with comically poisonous flair by Shirley MacLaine, and winds up becoming the prime suspect when she is found dead after a nine-month disappearance.
As the no-nonsense district attorney determined to bring Bernie down, Matthew McConnaughey digs deep to attain a transformative role far more interesting than his often shirtless and grinning good ol’ boy screen persona. As his investigation and Bernie’s eventual trial come into focus, the film unspools layer after layer of surprising depth, leaving viewers with a slew of moral quandaries: Should Bernie be punished for the death of a woman everyone hated? Did his generosity with her fortune—helping plenty of townspeople avoid foreclosure and treating the luckless to their dream vacations—excuse the fact he may be a killer?
Woven together with numerous interviews of genuine Texans who knew the real-life figures in the case, Bernie is a wonderfully witty surprise. But for those who really want to fall off the edge of their seats with nerve-jangling suspense, the Norwegian thriller Headhunters fits the bill.
Now, you might wonder how a thriller from Norway could possibly be so engaging. Yet Headhunters is a rollicking good time, appearing to be the hybrid offspring of Alfred Hitchcock and Quentin Tarantino as it follows the story of a corporate headhunter who really uses his job as a means of learning which of his elite clients own rare art before robbing them blind of their masterpieces.
No matter how much he steals, however, Roger feels that he can’t keep up with the lavish lifestyle he wants to provide his stunning wife Dianna, who has just launched her own art gallery. So, when Dianna introduces him to Clas Greve at a party and he learns that Clas’ grandmother has a $100-million painting from an ex-Nazi hanging in her old apartment, Roger springs into action.
The problem is that this time he’s picked the wrong man to mess with. Clas is a high-security expert who has developed the most ruthlessly effective tracking devices known to man, and only once he’s on the run does Roger realize he’s covered in them from head to toe. He has to, both literally and metaphorically, strip away the extravagant surface of his life in order to find a way out.
Laden with countless jaw-dropping twists, darkly hilarious dialogue and ace performances by actors who are fresh and unpredictable to American viewers, Headhunters is one of the most entertaining movies to hit theaters in years. That might sound like hyperbole, but a packed house of snooty art house patrons laughed, clapped and cheered throughout at a recent screening.
This weekend, make it a point to see what all the fuss is really about.