Black Snake Moan ***
Directed by Craig Brewer
Written by Craig Brewer
Samuel L. Jackson as Lazarus
Christini Ricci as Rae
Justin Timberlake as Ronnie
S. Epatha Merkerson as Angela
John Cothran Jr. as Rev. R.L.
115 Minutes(Rated R for strong sexual content, language, some violence, and drug use.)
"Black Snake Moan" holds the candle for the most interesting premise and the most disappointing execution. While I did greatly enjoy it, it did certainly did not end up being what I expected it to be, and I have the feeling that the premise given out to the public focused on one certain element of the story, abandoning the core heart that the story had to offer. From reading the plot summary on existing websites, one would get the idea that this was a smut film, when it is really the story of two people that really need each other at this point in their lives-even if they don't realize the importance of the other. So I suppose I was slightly mislead as to what to expect before watching it and what I got. It isn't a perfect film-not even close. It has very good performances, a decent script, but it does meander a bit-especially towards the end. And when it seems like the story is over, writer Craig Brewer doesn't let these characters be.
"Black Snake Moan" begins with Rae serving her boyfriend Ronnie just as he is about to be shipped out to Iraq. He is somewhat scared, and after they are done he throws up in the toilet. He does leave, and we then see her true nature as she goes off to the clubs, screwing every guy that she lays eyes upon. That gets her into trouble when Ronnie's best friend disapproves of Rae's behavior, and beats her up leaving her in the middle of the woods for dead. We then meet Lazarus, a former blues singer whose wife has just left him for his much younger brother. Lazarus ends up crossing paths with Rae, when he finds her on the road by his house unconscious. He notices that she is sick and has a black eye, and decides to cure her of her illness. Asking around the town about her, he learns about her reputation, and her sexual illness. That is when he decides that he will take it upon himself to cure her of this illness, and to make sure that she doesn't escape he ties a forty pound chain to the radiator with her on the other end. When she wakes up she is mighty angry about the chain, but Lazarus makes his intentions clear. He doesn't plan on touching her, he just wants to make use of God putting her in his path and help her with the problems.
Now the trailers and commercials for "Black Snake Moan" pretty much focused on the role of the chain in the whole thing. The trailer has Samuel L. Jackson not exactly introduced much, except for this wildly crazy grey haired man who chains a young woman in a short t-shirt and panties to his radiator. But there is a surprisingly large amount of heart in every minute of the film, and the Samuel L. Jackson character was not as crazy as depicted in the ads. He was just angry and upset at the time, and felt useless and emasculated. And he wanted to make up for these lost feelings by trying to do something useful. And the Christina Ricci character was not just a village bicycle-she was just abused as a child and is a direct product of what her parents made her. And by crossing each others path, each character ends up allowing the other to become satisfied with life. All throughout the film Rae gives up at the slightest bit of temptation. When a young boy knocks on the door to get something from Lazarus who isn't home, Rae tries to be ever so quiet so that she doesn't get the urge to sleep with the boy. And the second the door opens and the boy reveals himself, she can't help herself. By the end, every character has evolved, and every character is working on preventing themselves to cave into their norms. It is these character studies that are missing from the advertisements of "Black Snake Moan," and will leave a strong amount the viewers disappointed.
Perhaps the biggest thing that suffers in the entire film is the running time. There was a moment where I checked the time, saw that there was a good twenty five minutes left, and thought to myself "What could happen next?" It does overstay its welcome by about twenty minutes, and there are one too many musical bits of Jackson doing his blues thing. There is also a love story between Jackson and a local pharmacist that I found a bit tacked on and unneeded. I was hoping that the Lazarus character would find more solace with himself as opposed to with other people, and that the only person that he needed to help him would be Rae. But all in all, Jackson does a terrific job at carrying the film, and this is easily his best work in years. Ricci does her part well, and it is Justin Timberlake who is just plain annoying here. He did a decent job in "Alpha Dog" which made me rethink him a lot, but her he is whiny, irritating, and the entire time I was thinking to myself "How did he possibly last this long in this business?" "Black Snake Moan" is just a good movie-plain and simple. It is entertaining, strange, surreal, and at its core a film with more heart than you would think of by looking at the poster. Craig Brewer is slowly proving himself to be a great contemporary director, and, as with last years "Hustle and Flow," a modern master of stories where music is able to touch the heart.