|Black Snake Moan (2007)
L. Jackson, Christina
Ricci, Justin Timberlake, S. Epatha Merkerson,
Director: Craig Brewer
Not to be confused with Samuel L. Jackson’s other snake movie, “Black Snake Moan” is the sophomore effort from writer/director Craig Brewer, whose debut film “Hustle & Flow” (another movie about a Southern musician battling his inner demons) earned the director critical acclaim in 2005 as one of the generation’s most promising young talents. This time around, Brewer really goes for broke with a pulpy tale that isn’t afraid to push a few boundaries and raise a few eyebrows, but while its strong sexual and racial themes will no doubt turn many people away, remarkable performances by the film’s two leads make this one winter film that’s actually worth the price of the ticket.
Lazarus (Samuel L. Jackson) and Rae (Christina Ricci) are both at a crossroad in their lives when they first meet. The former, a blues musician whose wife has just left him for his younger brother, finds the young Rae on the side of the road, beaten to a pulp and left for dead. Knowing full well what kind of conclusions will be drawn if he calls the police, Lazarus takes her into his house to clean her up. Now, Rae is what you’d call the town slut, but to be fair, things are a bit more complicated than that. You see, she’s got this itch that, well, let’s just come out and say it: she’s a full-blown nymphomaniac; and not in the kind of way that you and I are a bunch of nymphomaniacs. This girl isn’t just horny all the time, but actually requires sex to prevent her from going certifiably loco. Savvy to the evils of temptation as a God-fearing man, Lazarus takes it upon himself to cure the girl of her illness by chaining her to a radiator.
The concept may sound a little strange at first (and trust me, it is), but that only opens the door for some truly comedic scenes between the two lead actors. Despite his seemingly calm nature, Jackson plays Lazarus exactly as you’d expect – as one bad motherfucker who will do whatever it takes to get the job done – but he also gets to spend a considerable amount of down time jamming on his electric guitar and singing the blues. The musical genre may not be very demanding of a good voice, but Jackson does a convincing job nonetheless. His female counterpart is even better, and while it’s always nice to see Ricci go topless for a role, the underrated actress actually makes you care about her character; much in the same way that Terrence Howard did with his pimp in “Hustle & Flow.” The Southern-fried hussy comes off sounding like Reese Witherspoon as June Carter, and though she continuously wrongs her boyfriend, Ronnie (Justin Timberlake), the audience can’t help but show forgiveness. It’s not her fault, after all.
Speaking of Timberlake, while the musician-turned-actor showed real promise in "Alpha Dog," his performance here is second-rate at best. Of course, it’s difficult to blame the guy considering the material he’s given to work with. Ronnie is whiny, clichéd and delivers most of the bad dialogue in the film. In fact, if there’s anything worth complaining about it’s in the film’s pacing, which suffers from a flat third act trying to squeeze more juice out of a script already pushing it as a full-length feature. By the time Rae is finally freed from her chains, the movie should have ended, but Brewer simply doesn’t want to let go. In the end, “Black Snake Moan” comes off tasting sourer than it should have, which is a shame, since with a little bit of restraint, it could have been so much sweeter.
The DVD release of “Black Snake Moan” isn’t anything special, but it contains enough bonus material to please the average fan. Highlighted by yet another excellent audio commentary by writer/director Craig Brewer, the single-disc effort also includes a making-of featurette (“Conflicted”), a behind-the-scenes look at the filming of the “Black Snake Moan” musical sequence, and another on the film’s musical influences (“Rooted in the Blues”). The disc is rounded out with twelve minutes of alternate/extended takes improperly labeled as deleted scenes and a still photo gallery.