by Valeria Milano
IFC Films presents Mary Harron's
Charlie Says in the year that marks the 50
th Anniversary of the multiple Manson Murders. Leslie Van Houten, one of three women sent to prison for life for the horrific murders orchestrated by Charles Manson, is up for parole - again - "deemed suitable, after serving more than four decades in prison." The three women who killed for him, Leslie Van Houten (Hannah Murray), Patricia Krenwinkel (Sosie Bacon) and Susan Atkins (Marianne Rendon), are at the core of
Charlie Says, taking place in an isolated cellblock in a California prison. Scenes go back-and-forth in time to introduce the young women who fell under Manson's spell.
As the trio appear to be destined to live out their lives under the delusion that their crimes were part of a cosmic plan, an empathetic graduate student, Karlene Faith (Merritt Weyer), is hired to rehabilitate them. As Karlene begins to push the boundaries of the psychological barriers the three women have lived under, we're introduced to three young, naïve women who may not be the monsters the world press portrayed them to be.
Hannah Murray, Sosie Bacon, & Marianne Rendon
For those who weren't alive during this time in history, the film does lean in with a somewhat fresher, albeit not newer, view that the women were brain-washed or fed drugs by Manson in order to persuade them to commit the heinous murders under his direction. What it lacks in the portrayal of the women is dimension. In particular, Van Houton has no major changes in her persona other than her finally realizing that stabbing a woman 12 times post-mortem is wrong.
Matt Smith convincingly plays Charles Manson as a drugged-out racist who fancied himself a rock star and who, through drugs and isolation, convinces his followers to do his bidding at any cost.
The victimhood stance is not doubtful, though it is merely scratched upon in this otherwise good slice of Manson history. Without a background on the girls or his other followers, it makes it more difficult to believe in the victim theory. If anything, the film asks more than it answers.
Matt Smith as Charles Manson
The reliving of the murders isn't easy to watch, but the need for more commitment from the director/writer so the actors could show us a deeper characterization of these women would have added a bit more depth. As it stands, we're left with three seemingly clueless women without a past who have brains so malleable that Manson simply rolls out his plans in silly putty in this rendition of the infamous tale.
All-in-all, a decent stab into difficult subject matter that leaves us asking "why" too frequently... but perhaps that is the director's intent. A good try by all.
Directed by Mary Harron. Written by Guinevere Turner
. Produced by Cindi Rice, John Frank Rosenblum, Dana Guerin. Starring Matt Smith, Hannah Murray, Sosie Bacon, Marianne Rendon, Chance Crawford, Suki Waterhouse, Kayli Carter, Annabeth Gish and Merritt Wever.
opens in Los Angeles and New York on May 10th.
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