Venice 2018 round-up reviews: First Man, A Star Is Born, Charlie Says
Ivan Radford | On 02, Sep 2018
With Netflix and Amazon Studios both premiering titles at this year’s Venice Film Festival, we head to Italy to check out the latest streaming originals and catch up with some of the other titles on offer. Keep up-to-date with our full coverage here.
Fresh from Netflix’s Alias Grace, director Mary Harron returns to her specialist subject of serial killers with the intriguing drama Charlie Says. The first out of the gates in a mini-run on Charles Manson (Netflix’s Mindhunter and Tarantino’s new film will both feature him), Harron’s movie benefits from bringing someone neither of those has: a female perspective of the horrific killings.
Based on Ed Sanders’ book The Family, the film more primarily focuses on the work of Karlene Faith, founder of the Santa Cruz Women’s Prison Project. She finds herself drawn into the aftermath of the Manson Killings, interviewing and attempting to help Leslie (Hannah Murray), Patricia (Sosie Bacon) and Susan (Marianne Rendon) through her role as behind-bars educator.
Merritt Wever is fantastic as Karlene, simultaneously gentle and sympathetic, firm and fact-driven, appalled and cautious. The film’s most compelling moments involve just seeing these women interact, as the trio exert power where they can, and manipulate the guards to be kind to them – despite the fact that they committed murder most brutal. It’s a meeting of wills and minds, but most tellingly, the strongest mind is not present: that of Charles Manson (Matt Smith), whose influence still holds sway years later, as his followers espouse his strange visions of the future and try to live by his very specific moral code.
The flashbacks to the Spahn Ranch, where Manson’s community was based, aren’t quite as compelling, but that’s more a reflection of how good the quartet of women are than anything to do with Smith. Since Doctor Who, the actor has increasingly diversified and constantly impressed, and here is no exception: he delivers perhaps a career-best performance as Manson, a brutal bully of a man who talks of love and freedom but exerts control and abuses it to suit his own childish ego.
The interplay between the two timelines is highly effective, even as the movie builds to its low-key climax. This is a quietly intriguing and gently disturbing companion piece to Alias Grace, which finds fresh, surprisingly pertinent depths to the Manson story by examining the line between consent, complicity and compassion, and asking who and who can’t be regarded as a victim of one man’s disturbed mind. A prime candidate for a day-and-date cinema release in the near future.
Charlie Says does not yet have a UK release date.
Damien Chazelle and Ryan Gosling team up once again for a dizzying tale of the 1969 moon landing. But while the whole world knows what happened when Neil Armstrong touched down on that milky orb, Chazelle’s remarkable achievement is that he makes you forget for two hours that humankind’s most remarkable achievement ever took place.
A Star Is Born
Is there anything Bradley Cooper or Lady Gaga can’t do? Judging by A Star Is Born, probably not. This remake of the age-old musical is a soul-filling wonder, which finds emotional clout between catchy notes and sincere romance underneath stylish riffs – not bad going for an actor’s directorial debut.