Southern hospitality sees a whole new light in this pulpy romp. Mixing blues with one woman’s intense carnal obsession, “Black Snake Moan” is the story of one man’s quest to better one woman’s life.
Lazarus (Samuel L. Jackson) is a retired Tennessee blues player whose wife just left him for his younger brother. Lazarus is almost ready to give up on his religious ways until he finds Rae (Christina Ricci), beaten up on the street in front of his house. Rae is a sex fiend who spends her time sleeping with many men while her boyfriend Ronnie (Justin Timberlake) is away. Rae wakes up to find herself tied to a chain that is connected to Lazarus’s radiator, with Lazarus telling her that he will do whatever it takes to rid the “demons” from her. Now the idea of a tiny, half-naked white woman tied to Sam Jackson’s radiator might sound like a Southern “Misery,” but instead we are graced with a pulpy Southern tale of redemption.
This is writer/director Craig Brewer’s most recent feature film effort and if you were a fan of “Hustle and Flow,” then prepare for an even better film about a suffering Southern musician. The film’s opening sequence is stellar, Christina Ricci walking down a back road in a very skimpy outfit with a tractor honking behind her. She lights up a cigarette and in slow motion she flips off the tractor as “Black Snake Moan” scrolls down from the top of the screen in a true pulp-style, Tarantino-esque fashion. Samuel L. Jackson and Christina Ricci had great chemistry, with one shot in particular that was really moving to me. Lazarus starts playing his guitar for Rae in the middle of a thunderstorm. Now, listening to Sam Jackson sing is amazing enough, but the visual composition is also key in this scene because the whole undercurrent is that Rae and Lazarus have this weird, non-sexual relationship. Rae’s sitting in front of Lazarus as he plays but a single camera shot from behind her head shows that she is sitting where her head looks to be right between his legs. Even though her head isn’t really between his legs, this is a truly effective way of selling the theme on a completely different level, one based in the sexualization of her character while being completely innocent..
My main criticism of this film, besides Justin Timberlake’s terrible acting, has to do with Rae’s rapid cure and character-change. She goes from seducing a local teenager, to helping Lazarus make biscuits for dinner, to getting the chain lifted off in what seems a single day. Only Anakin Skywalker in “Episode III” had a more rapid change in character. Unfortunately, once the chain was lifted, so was any struggle the film could possibly have, and the tension disappears. The lack of struggle lessens the payoff for Lazarus, ultimately.
This is a decent film that may possibly suffer from its own hype and Brewer’s previous success, but will definitely hurt from the lack of dramatic conflict. While maintaining good acting from Jackson and Ricci and a solid story premise, the third act still falls flat, making for an overall mediocre experience.