Black Snake Moan
- Samuel L. Jackson as Lazarus
- Christina Ricci as Rae
- Justin Timberlake as Ronnie
I remember seeing the advertisements for Black Snake Moan when it was released and thinking that it just looked like a sleazy attempt at revamping the exploitation movie. But when I finally got around to watching it, boy was I surprised. It actually is a film, which does take some influences from 70’s exploitation cinema, but emerges as a study of sex, lacerated souls and redemption. It may be outrageous and questionable, but Craig Brewer keeps you interested by crafting this tale of forgiveness with the blues serving as a soulful backdrop.
Living in Tennessee, Lazarus is a former blues guitarist who plows the land on his surrounding farm. He is consumed by anger since his wife left him for his brother, and as a result his faith in religion has waned. This changes when he comes across Rae, a girl suffering from nymphomania and a victim of childhood abuse, who he finds beaten and left for dead in the middle of the road. As he nurses her back to health, he sees Rae as someone who he can help with her personal demons. He finds an interesting way of doing this which includes chaining her to his radiator to cure her of her wanton ways . Although Rae and Lazarus are initially at each others throats, a genuine friendship develops between them as they open up about the pain that is plaguing them. Lazarus can’t accept that his wife has left him for his brother, whereas Rae is struggling with her condition and unable to cope with the fact that her boyfriend Ronnie has left for the army. In a way both characters nurse the other through the deep-seated anguish and head towards the road of redemption. Some great dialogue from Craig Brewer and all out amazing performances from Samuel L. Jackson and Christina Ricci give Black Snake Moan a reflective and redemptive quality backed up by the blues on the soundtrack.
Craig Brewer as writer and director takes this seemingly outrageous premise and transforms it into something quite moving indeed. We see the gradual unfolding friendship that develops between the angry Lazarus and loose living Rae and the effect each has on the other in their emotional journey. If you’ve only seen the advertising campaign for Black Snake Moan don’t let that put you off, in my view it detracts from the power of the film and if you do see it, it is something quite different from what the marketing made out. The carefully chosen blues soundtrack makes for a great listen and gives us an insight into the damaged minds of the two principal characters. Amy Vincent’s amazing cinematography of faded browns and golden hues compliments the sweltering Southern Gothic references made throughout Black Snake Moan. There is the grainy quality of exploitation cinema apparent in some areas of the film but I wouldn’t quite class Black Snake Moan as an all out exploitation flick. I would say it’s a drama, with Southern Gothic references that concentrates on the characters as they mend their broken souls through confession and music. For the most part, Black Snake Moan succeeds in telling this unflinching story and only sometimes lapses into full on melodrama and ludicrous moments. Thankfully, Craig Brewer keeps these moments few and far between and raises the outrageous appearance of the story into this redemptive drama.
The two principal performers in Black Snake Moan, Samuel L. Jackson and Christina Ricci give it their all as these damaged characters. Samuel L. Jackson effectively portrays the anger boiling inside Lazarus, but also the caring side that wants to help Rae in her struggles. Jackson contributes fierce rage, comfort and a bad ass attitude into an excellent performance. Christina Ricci oozes rawness and unrestrained pain as Rae; the town nymphomaniac who is spiralling into self-destruction. Ricci may show her body in this movie, but she does some of her most naked acting with her clothes on. She has an emotional honesty that she imbues Rae with and genuinely makes the audience understand why this girl acts the way she does and the traumatic reasons that led to it. Although his character is underwritten, Justin Timberlake is effective enough as the nervous soldier boyfriend of Rae, whose departure began her slow descent into wanton ways.
It may be outrageous and questionable to say the least, but Black Snake Moan effectively overcomes the exploitation tag to give us a redemptive story of two connecting souls who are given emotional weight by Samuel L. Jackson and Christina Ricci.