Black Snake Moan (2007)
Black Snake Moan (2007)

Genre: Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 56 min.

Release Date: February 23rd, 2007 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Craig Brewer Actors: Samuel L. Jackson, Christina Ricci, Justin Timberlake, John Cothran, S. Epatha Merkerson, David Banner, Kim Richards, Clare Grant

 


 

D

ecidedly campy yet filled with dark comedy, witty southern lingo, soulful blues, and the wickedly sumptuous Christina Ricci, “Black Snake Moan” is a nearly indefinable blend of pulpy guilty pleasures. With an amalgamated storyline unlike anything seen before, the film somehow manages to draw audiences into its bizarrely likeable characters and feel-good scenarios, despite the fact that its actual viewership might be undecipherable based on the lurid poster art. Not bad for director Craig Brewer’s sophomore effort, having previously helmed the Oscar-winning “Hustle & Flow.”

Lazarus (Samuel L. Jackson) is a law-abiding, God-fearing farmer in Memphis, Tennessee – until his wife suddenly leaves him for his brother. Wrought with rage and sorrow, he turns to the bottle and to distracting labor on his farm. Rae (Christina Ricci) is a nymphomaniac who turns to anyone willing to have her (and the list is lengthy) when her anxiety-ridden boyfriend Ronnie (Justin Timberlake) ships off to boot camp. Abused and tormented by her uncontrollable desires, she ends up beaten, bloodied, and abandoned on the road outside Lazarus’ home. Righteously determined to nurse her back to health and cure her of her derangement, Lazarus (with good intentions, mind you) chains her to the heater inside his house.

The peculiar storyline combines offbeat and humorous situations with the severity of sexual disorders and rape. Oddly riveting, there is no way to predict what will happen next other than to intently wait for events to unfold. While simultaneously condemning and supporting the living of one’s own life, “Black Snake Moan” provides a subtle commentary on the power of redemption and the necessity to quell self-destructive desires through an alternative source of pleasure. Salvation through music plays an important role here, along with finding content with oneself and discovering the courage to forgive. Such an intricate mix of themes placed against an even more complex setting urges the viewer to discover its morals and dares them to relate to the exceedingly afflicted protagonists. Rarely has a film managed to express and evoke such a diverse range of emotions, from encroaching dread and unrequited love, to feverish lust and tearful sympathy.

Of course, without the commendable acting of the two leads, this tale of troubled characters would most likely be too difficult to comprehend. Samuel L. Jackson and Christina Ricci perform quite convincingly, demonstrating once again that there is no role too outlandish for either thespian to bring to life. The strange father/daughter relationship works thanks to an impressive chemistry that could have fallen apart in the hands of lesser actors. And even Justin Timberlake is surprisingly adept as Rae’s boyfriend, who periodically suffers from anxiety attacks and bouts of jealous rage. Supporting characters R.L. (John Cothran Jr.) and Terrone (David Banner) brilliantly add comic relief to a picture that somehow manages to be lighthearted and inspirational despite its alarming premises.

As blues music is utilized to help distract Rae from her uneasiness, the film’s soundtrack meshes nostalgically jazzy songs with inventive, ranting lyrics, showcasing several original works as well as soulful favorites. “Black Snake Moan” also provides a platform for Samuel L. Jackson to reveal his talent for blues singing (and even allows Ricci a snippet of harmonizing). In many ways, the project feels narrated by its soundtrack.

By the end, it’s evident that this yarn is more eccentric – and certainly more artistic – than Jackson’s last snake movie (the ludicrous “Snakes on a Plane”). And bemoaning lost loves in the South may prove more difficult in finding its niche among mainstream audiences, but it’s well worth the investment. A more bizarre mix of sex, love, betrayal, and redemption won’t be found anywhere else this summer, as “Black Snake Moan” offers its unique perspective on the obsessions of the heart (and the stomach, and a little lower) through a diverse cast, an infectious script, and an unexpected culmination of spirit.

– The Massie Twins

  • 8/10