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Bernie — Movies for Lawyers — The Act Of Communication Point Of View


Love Bernie. You know I am a sucker for great movies based on legal cases. And this is a dilly of a real case that comes from Texas. You may remember it – local mortician whom all the folks in Carthage, Texas are fond of strikes up a May-December romance with a wealthy older widow…and…kills her. And the locals still love him. Filmmaker Richard Linklatter, who hails from Houston, has created quite a film from this juicy hometown story. Film buffs and attorneys alike can gain great insight from this one!

Linklatter is an amazing filmmaker. Most directors either work in a fictionalized storytelling mode, even when dealing with “real life” stories, OR they prefer working in strict documentary form – shooting and editing from life. But Linklatter can deliver a great biopick, like Me and Orson Welles and a documentary like Inning By Inning: A Portrait Of A Coach in a single year (2008). In Bernie he combines these two forms. The biopick cast includes the wonderful Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine and Matthew McConaughey, all playing the fictionalized versions of real life characters. Linklatter has also taken advantage of the wonderful pool of local professional actors that we’ve seen in lots of television shows and films that are shot in Texas. In our house, we call them by the industry term: “local hires.” In addition to this, Linklatter has, for a lack of a better term, a documentary cast consisting of interviews with real life citizens of the town of Carthage.

Attorneys take note – you can’t tell the actors from the non-actors. I am totally serious. Once you get past the three main leads, you aren’t going to be able to pick out the local hire actors from the real life interviewees. Here’s what I love about this lesson: you are the Richard Linklatter of every trial you are involved in. The idea is to make your entire cast of witnesses – and you – appear as though everyone is a featured actor in the same movie. Instead, I often see a real uneven cast in a trial. Different “actors” look like they come from different shows. For example, the attorney acts stiff and wooden, the experts all ignore the lawyer and just “go for it” with the jurors as if they are stars, and the lay witnesses clam up or over-answer or whatever. There is no cohesion. No appearance of a team effort or unifying style. You need to work with your witnesses and work on your own presentation so that you all appear to be a team in the same movie.



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