|Black Snake Moan |
Actors: Christina Ricci, Samuel L. Jackson, Justin Timberlake, S. Epatha Merkerson, John Cothran Jr.
Director: Craig Brewer
Genres: Drama, Music Video & Concerts
When ex-blues musician Lazarus (Samuel L. Jackson) finds the town nymphomaniac Rae (Christina Ricci) left for dead on the side of the road, he vows to nurse her back to health?and cure her of her wickedness. Until then, s... more »
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Reviewed on 10/5/2019...
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Love, Redemption, and Blues
Robin Friedman | Washington, D.C. United States | 03/05/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I was drawn to this movie because I enjoyed director Craig Brewer's earlier film, "Hustle and Flow". If anything, I liked "Black Snake Moan" even better. The movie combines tawdry and lurid components with a tale of love, forgiveness, and hope. I don't think the film is exploitative. Instead it suggests in a simple way how sensual and redemptive parts of life often complement each other.
In thinking about this movie, I was reminded of George Eliot's novel, "Silas Marner", the bane of every high school student. In Eliot's novel, Marner, an embittered miser finds redemption when he raises Eppie, an orphaned girl, from childhood to young adulthood. Similarly, "Black Snake Moan" tells the story of a middle-aged black American man, Lazarus, portrayed by Samuel Jackson, who feels embittered when Rose, his wife of 12 years, leaves him for his best friend. Lazarus happens upon a young scantily dressed white woman, Rae, played by Christina Ricci, who has been beaten and left near-dead on a country road following a wild party. Lazarus takes her into his home and tries to teach and care for her. Ultimately, the movie suggests, both Lazarus and Rae receive a kind of hope, Rae by marrying her boyfriend, Lazarus by finding what may be a promising new relationship.
The story gets life through a great deal of tawdry sex. At the turning point of the movie, Lazarus chains Rae to a radiator to prevent her escape. Rae was a victim of sexual abuse and a neglectful mother, and in her boyfriend's temporary absence for military service, she throws herself at every man she can find. She appears in the movie scantily clad, in a cut-off blouse with a Confederate flag and in shorts. Lazarus has his own frustrations to work out from the loss of Rose, his wife. A black preacher, the Reverend R.L., played by John Cotham, helps both Lazarus and Rae and is the quiet hero of this movie.
In this movie, atmosphere and scene count for a great deal. The story is set in a small Tennessee town near Nashville, and the story is redolent with poor Southern life, both black and white. There is scenes in shacks and farms, and small town stores and streets, and in clubs and bars that bring the movie to life. Brewer shows the same love for and knowledge of the rural South that he showed in "Hustle and Flow". Most importantly there is music. The tale of sex and redemption is captured in the flow of the blues in a soundtrack and in performances by Lazarus himself. Jackson spent long hours learning the blues guitar in preparation for this movie. The movie includes two scenes of footage with the great Delta bluesman Son House holding forth appropriately on love, loss, and the blues. Music is a redemptive force in people's lives, and in this movie of the hot-blooded South, redemption comes through the blues.
I found the tawdry elements of this movie an essential part of the story it had to tell. "Black Snake Moan" is rewarding.
"Snake" and a Chain
thornhillatthemovies.com | Venice, CA United States | 03/07/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"So, let me get this straight. The Deep South. A young, white woman (Christina Ricci) who is also a nymphomaniac, ends up on the doorstep of an aging, black blues singer (Samuel L. Jackson) and he decides to chain her to his radiator. Have I returned to another era of filmmaking? When I first heard about this story, I did a double take. "Black Snake Moan" could be very bad; there are a lot of inherent problems with this story. Or it could be very good; the synopsis has so many weird, uncommon elements that it almost guarantees it will be something wonderful. I am happy to report the latter is true.
I didn't love "Hustle and Flow", writer - director Craig Brewer's last film, but I liked it. I just wasn't won over by the story of a pimp who wants to become a rapper. If there's anything we learned from the film its "Don't you know it's hard out there for a pimp".
So when I first heard about "Black Snake Moan", Brewer's follow-up, I was not excited. Then I started to really pay attention to the previews and the images. Okay, this is going to be one strange movie and sometimes strange movies are beautiful because they have a license to go places we don't expect. "Black Snake Moan" is all of these things; strange, beautiful and also contains great performances from Jackson (one of his best) and Ricci (certainly her best).
The first thing "Black Snake" does is set up the two main characters, establishing their lives, before they meet. This may sound like a given, but Brewer spends a significant amount of time showing the despair each person has in their lives, for different reasons, giving us a chance to get to know each of them.
Rae (Ricci) begs her boyfriend Ronnie, (Justin Timberlake) to not go to Basic Training. But he has to go, this is the only way they are ever going to escape the trailer park they live in and have a chance to escape their white trash roots. She runs after the truck in her daisy dukes and oversize flannel shirt and then drops to the ground, crying. As soon as he is gone, she gets the `itch', something she is only occasionally able to control. This time, she won't be able to control it. She calls up the local small time drug dealer, a black man, and they are soon going at it in a seedy motel room. Later, she attends a large party, wearing the same daisy dukes and a cut off t-shirt bearing the Confederate flag (really just a strip of cloth making a valiant effort to cover her breasts, frequently giving up the fight) and tries to hook up. With anyone and everyone. Unable to find someone, she takes some pills and before you can whistle Dixie, she is running around in her panties and a football guard playing a game of football with some friends. Before you know it, she is having sex on the lawn, amid hundreds of used plastic cups. Later, she ends up with a bloody nose on the dirt road outside of Lazarus' small farm.
Lazarus (Jackson) has troubles of his own. A former Blues musician, he learns his wife has been cheating on him with his brother. She wants to leave, but his brother won't leave without his blessing. Lazarus shows great restraint in a confrontation between them. The local preacher, a childhood friend, tries to offer him guidance, but Lazarus won't have any of it. Returning home drunk, he throws all of his wife's possessions into a garbage bag before passing out. The next morning, he takes the garbage bags out to the trash and spots the young girl. He soon realizes she is hurt and tries to figure out what to do. If he calls for help, he will be immediately blamed and may end up in jail. He decides to take her in and help her. He visits the local pharmacist, Angela (S. Epatha Merkerson, TV's "Law and Order") and she gives him some cough medicine for `his niece's' cough.
Fading in and out of consciousness, Lazarus helps her get rid of her cough and tries to help with the black eye and the cuts and bruises. In a moment of lucidity, she attacks Lazarus, trying to tame her `itch' and have sex with him, leading him to find out about her nymphomania. In order to control her, he chains her to the radiator.
When she comes to, wearing her panties and t-shirt, she assumes something happened, but he assures her it didn't. Well, if he wants to, he can, as long as he lets her go. He won't have any of it. He has to help her.
This only begins to scratch he surface of "Black Snake Moan". Because the film is basically about these two characters, and we spend a significant amount of time with them, we learn a lot about each. But it is a testament to each actor that these moments of knowledge come through their performances, one of Jackon's best and certainly Ricci's best to date.
Christina Ricci deserves a lot of credit for the simple rawness of the performance. There aren't many actresses that would take on this type of role, let alone abandon themselves to the character. Rae is half nude throughout most of the film. Naturally, this character, a woman so loose with her sexuality, so promiscuous, would find nudity a natural thing. And the character does bare her breasts a few times. She also has sex with more than one person. But all of these images are presented in a very matter-of-fact way and illustrate the character's soullessness. When she meets Lazarus and he starts to care for her, this behavior stops, because he won't allow it. Gradually, as she realizes he cares for her, she starts to listen to him. She doesn't change completely, or quickly, making the character seem all the more natural.
This performance is very raw and fitting for the character. Ricci seems to give everything she has to the role, making it a memorable, vibrant performance. When she starts to change, we have lived part of the journey with her and we feel as though we have changed with her.
Samuel L. Jackson also seems to lose in the role of Lazarus. Every time we go to a movie, we may recognize the actors playing the role. Not surprisingly, the less famous an actor, the more easily they `become' the character they are playing because we are more likely to forget they are an actor playing a role. Samuel L. Jackson has made many films, many of those very popular, so he is very recognizable. An established actor always has more difficulty disappearing into the character. But Jackson seems to disappear into this character for large stretches of time, allowing me to forget I was watching the famous actor who has also appeared in "Pulp Fiction ", "Snakes on a Plane" and many others. The fact that he can fully immerse himself into the character at all speaks to his ability to make this character seem real.
From the moment we first meet him, we experience some of the troubles Lazarus has with his community, with his wife, with his life. When he finds Ricci on the dirt road, he has to help her. But he has to be cautious. It wouldn't look good for an aging black man to be seen with a half naked white woman, let alone one who has been beaten up. So he looks both ways, to make sure no one is watching and takes her inside.
The more involved he gets in her recovery, the more we realize he needed such a `project' to give meaning to his life. This also brings him into contact with the pharmacist, a woman who clearly has a little `itch' of her own for the aging Blues singer. Throughout the course of the story, Lazarus heals through his interactions with the young lady and may be able to get his life back on track after all.
Justin Timberlake is also good as, Ricci's boyfriend. Going beyond stunt casting, he actually shows he has some acting chops as he makes the character's difficulties real and substantive.
"Black Snake Moan" is a simply made film. The action centers at Lazarus' small farm in the middle of nowhere. Occasionally, he goes into town or other characters come out to the farm and interact with him, but I can't imagine this film cost a lot of money to make. Which makes sense because I am pretty sure if the budget for this film were too high, it never would have been made.
I'm glad "Black Snake Moan" was made, because it contains two great performances, introducing us to characters we have never seen before, and likely are not to see often again. It is also a believable, well-made tale of redemption for two people who need to have some meaning in their lives.
This strange film is, at times, quite a beautiful film."
Very Unique and Entertaining
Kasey Driscoll | 07/02/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Craig Brewer (Hustle and Flow) directs his second mainstream film and John Singleton produces. Black Snake Moan stars Samuel L. Jackson as Lazarus, a religious man living in a small southern town. Lazarus is also a blues musician. His demons are that his wife left him for his own brother and for this he is riddled with anger. Christina Ricci plays Rae, who is an overly promiscuous girl who is traumatized by a history of child sexual abuse. On top of that her boyfriend Ronnie has left to join the National Guard. Ronnie is played by Justin Timberlake. After Ronnie leaves, Rae ends up having a pretty bad evening that leaves her scantily clad and beat up in the middle of a dirt road. She is left on a road just in front of Lazarus's house. After helping her get better, he soon comes to find out who Rae is and what kind of reputation she has. Lazarus sees this as a sign from god that he must heal her of her wickedness in order to receive some redemption for himself. So he ties her up to a giant 40 pound chain.
The film has a great atmosphere. It comes off as sticky and sweaty throughout and plays with that imagery as the characters develop. It consistently offers references to blues music and the characters are loud and full of life. It comes off as exploitative in some ways but that is ultimately done for a greater cause. Samuel L. Jackson is always good, even in really bad movies, but this is one of his best roles in many years. The real star here though is Christina Ricci who I've always felt is doing whatever she wants for now but one day she will be hailed as one of the best actresses around after a performance that hits the mainstream just right. Unfortunately for her though Black Snake Moan has not yet been a commercial success. None of that really matters though because it is still a very good movie although both Jackson and Ricci are even better than the screenplay and direction demand.
Some people say the film is hypocritical for sexualizing Rae and offering several erotic scenes with her, while at the same time presenting a negative view of sexuality. Firstly, I disagree that the film portrays sexuality as a negative but instead portrays excess as a negative. I did not feel hammered down by any messages that sex is wrong. Secondly, Black Snake Moan is definitely not meant to be erotic. It certainly rings of exploitation films but by watching Rae's transformation away from nymphomania and toward stabilization, away from her history of abuse to some degree of resolution, away from vulnerable to honest and confident, and away from being naked to being clothed; I can't help but think this is a fiercely unsexy film that is against hypersexuality alone. To be pro-spirituality and critical of actions often perceived as sinful is not puritanical and not even necessarily anti-sex. I would even argue that this movie uses religion only as a tool, but healing in general as its primary message despite the powerful Christian overtones. No matter how you look at it Black Snake Moan is, above all, a film that reinforces morality. It also happens to be quite entertaining."