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Charlie Says Movie Review

Charlie Says Little

Charles Manson was the infamous cult leader who in 1967 formed what became known as the Manson Family. It functioned similarly to a commune except that Manson ruled it. Usually when there is a clear ruler, fear keeps the membership in line. While there was no doubt some fear at work, it wasn't the primary thing that held the group together. The members, who were mostly women, happily did Charlie's bidding.

The women, under the direction of Charlie, committed murders that captured America's attention in a way very few incidents can. After they were caught, a truly bizarre trial followed. Everyone watching had trouble figuring out why these women were following this little 5'2" man who was neither physically imposing nor a leading-man type.

Premiering at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival, "Charlie Says," directed by Mary Harron and written by Guinevere Turner, goes back and forth from Spahn Ranch, the home of the Manson family, and the prison where three of the women in the cult are serving time for their parts in the murders. Susan Atkins (Marianne Rendon), Patricia Krenwinkel (Sosie Bacon), and Leslie Van Houten (Hannah Murray) are the imprisoned women.

However, Charlie (Matt Smith) remains the most important character in the story for obvious reasons. After all, he was the guy in charge who got his followers to murder strangers in order to foster a race war that he thought would result in African Americans taking over the world. He reasoned that the victors wouldn't have the intellect to then run things so he and his followers would then take the reins of power. He was nuts. Why his followers followed is part of the never-ending proof of how stupid some people are.

By far the biggest problem I had with "Charlie Says" is that Matt Smith portrays Charlie. This is in no way meant as criticism of Smith's acting skills. The problem is that Smith is six feet tall and not bad looking. People tend to be attracted to tall decent looking men. Manson, in reality, was a weasely looking troll. When Smith strums his guitar and the women look at him lovingly, it seems reasonable. When the real Manson was doing it, it must have been comical looking yet scary to an outsider.

There are other problems with the film, the primary one being the almost utter lack of palpable tension. It plays like a poor network vision of a mass murder, minus the oppressive soundtrack to tell us just how terrible this all is. There has not been a great film made about the Manson murders that I am aware of. If the topic interests you, read "Helter Skelter," written by Vincent Bugliosi, the prosecuting attorney at the trial. Skip this film, because this Charlie doesn't say much at all.

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