Directed by: Craig Brewer
Premise: Just outside of a small Tennessee town, Lazarus (Samuel L. Jackson), a black Blues musician who has recently separated from his wife, takes in Rae (Christina Ricci), a young white woman who suffers from nymphomania as a result of an abusive childhood. Lazarus takes it upon himself to cure Rae of her condition by chaining her inside of his cabin and reconditioning her.
What Works: Black Snake Moan is an unexpected film about redemption by finding love. The film is smartly structured as a test of the wills of these two characters and both are changed for the better by their interactions as the film moves them toward finding ways of loving themselves and others. Like he did in Hustle and Flow, director and screenwriter Craig Brewer shows aptitude for creating sympathetic characters and getting into their heads and situations. The performances in this film are tremendous. Jackson and Ricci give some of the best performances of their careers. Jackson is entirely convincing as a Blues musician who finds his way out of isolation and hate, and watching his love bloom with a local pharmacist (S. Epatha Merkerson) is very touching. Ricci’s performance is incredibly brave, as she spends a lot of the film naked or close to it, and she turns a role that, in the hands of a lesser actress, might have been just another Jerry Springer Show cliché into a very complex portrait of a tortured woman. The film’s treatment of Rae’s sexuality shows how her sexual behavior is a cover for other trauma and so Black Snake Moan does not demonize female sexuality but rather demonstrates how, for this character, an otherwise healthy libido has been turned around and made into a self-destructive urge. Rae’s relationship with boyfriend Ronnie (Justin Timberlake), gives the story a lot of grounding and puts something at stake for her character, a motivation for her to turn around her situation. Although his role is small, mostly confined to the first and third acts, Timberlake is good as an earnest young man who follows his love despite his better judgment and the relationship between Ronnie and Rae is very compelling because of all of the drama involved.
What Doesn’t: Some may find the ending a little too nice and tidy, especially compared to how rough much of the film is. For a moment it looks as though Black Snake Moan might sell out, but its final scenes leave the story on an intimate and hopeful image that is consistent with the rest of the film.
DVD extras: Commentary track, featurettes, deleted scenes.
Bottom Line: Black Snake Moan is another challenging film from the director Hustle and Flow. It treads into dangerous territory and manages to come out with some sober and compassionate observations about love, music, and sexuality that will enlighten viewers rather than just titillate them.
Episode: #150 (July 29, 2007)