Director: Mary Harron
Cast: Matt Smith, Hannah Murray, Marianne Rendón, Sosie Bacon, Merritt Wever, Suki Waterhouse, Chace Crawford and Annabeth Gish
Reviewed By: Dion Wyn
In the space of 12 months we will of had two Charles Manson movies. Soon will be Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time in Hollywood; but first of all we have Mary Harron’s Charlie Says. Harron most famously known for American Psycho has always created character focused movies. Now she is talking Charlie Manson, but through the eyes of the people he brainwashed into murdering people during his Helter Skelter plot. The story follows three young women were sentenced to death in the infamous Manson murder case, but when the death penalty was lifted, their sentence became life imprisonment. One young graduate student was sent in to teach them – and through her we witness their transformations as they face the reality of their horrific crimes.
The casting of Matt Smith as the bogey man Manson caught my interest. Unfortunately Smith is not Manson; he doesn’t have the power, the stare and the tension of this man. The Manson Family has been a keen interest of mine for many years. If you can’t embody the man then your film will not work. Harron was slated for the portrayal of Bettie Page in 2005, for me Gretchen Mol did embody Page’s enigma and the film works because of it. Mary Harron’s angle on the tale is the saving grace of the picture. We meet them while they are imprisoned and they recall what had lead the to Helter Skelter. Harron seams the tale with great care, you can sense why they joined the Manson family and the era of free love is shown in a very gritty manor.
The build up to Sharon Tate’s murder is tense and harrowing. Charlie Manson’s plan to create a race war is of pure evil. The girls can sense his plan is unjust but they are too far into the rabbit hole now. The women are abused physically and mentally but they have dedicating their mind body and spirit to him. The actual tone and pace of the film is all over the place. You can’t sense the spark that creates Manson into a monster. You just hear a speech from him and that is all. Marianne Rendon, Hannah Murray and Sosie Bacon give a strong trio of performances. You can believe their obsession and pain; the inevitable reformation of their sins can be seen in their eyes. Charlie Says is more of their story than of Manson. Unfortunately the pull point for anyone is Smith as Manson. It doesn’t execute the potential it actually had.