'Black Snake Moan' scores high with reviewers
March 8, 2007
If one didn’t know better, one might think that “Black Snake Moan” is a rather lurid tale of a black man keeping a white woman literally chained up in his house. But just as writer/director Craig Brewer proved with his 2005 debut, “Hustle & Flow,” there’s a lot more than meets the eye.
As “Hustle & Flow” was about more than just a pimp that wanted to be a rapper, “Black Snake Moan” delivers a much more touching tale than the ads suggest.
It perfectly illustrates how you can’t judge a book by its coveror, in this case, a movie by its poster.
“Black Snake Moan” is a look into the downtrodden worlds of two lost souls in the deep South: farmer/retired bluesman Lazarus (Samuel L. Jackson) and Rae (Christina Ricci), a young woman lamenting her boyfriend (Justin Timberlake) heading off to boot camp.
It’s not long before Rae lives up to her reputation as the town tramp, descending into a whirlwind of drugs and promiscuous sex that leaves her bruised, bloodied and left for dead on a back road. Luckily, recently divorced Lazarus comes upon her and sets about nursing her back to health. He aims to cure Rae of her “wickedness” by chaining her up to his radiator, igniting a battle of wills between two individuals who both need a good dose of redemption.
On the surface, “Black Snake Moan” looks to be a sleazy bit of softcore entertainment that got lost on its way to Cinemax. However, its themes are closer to that of “A Prairie Home Companion” and “Before Sunset.”
Though they may seem polar opposites, Lazarus and Rae are rather similar characters; both seek solace from their respective lives, Rae through nonstop sex and Lazarus through drinking following his wife’s departure. Both are damaged goods searching for some form of atonement, and with “Black Snake Moan,” Brewer cooks up one offbeat situation for them to go about attaining it.
What makes “Black Snake Moan” click is that Brewer acknowledges how far-fetched the story is while playing it completely straight, setting up a convincing turn of events successfully stretched for the duration of the plot.
Near the end, Brewer’s quirky edge tends to wear off and lean a little on the preachy side, but for the most part, he never loses his keen sense of constructing multi-layered characters, maintaining a sweltering atmosphere and setting it all to one of the best soundtracks I’ve heard in years.
Ricci’s performance is unabashedly slutty yet sympathetic, Jackson is pitch-perfect as Lazarus, and although he’s not as impressive here as he was in “Alpha Dog,” Timberlake’s turn as Rae’s boyfriend is pretty tolerable.
A tale of love, sex and music that never fully loses its unique flavor, “Black Snake Moan” is akin to a great blues song; it’s steeped in sadness and tragedy, yet its outlook is unavoidably optimistic.
A.J. Hakari is a student at UW-River Falls.