Monday, March 12, 2007

Black Snake Moan (2007)

Black Snake Moan (2007): I’m a little bit surprised that Craig Brewer’s movie has been so divisive among critics. Some would say this is a glorified “B” movie, but I’m not so sure. I think critics should be the most willing to take the leap of faith, a leap this movie requires you to make. That the plot is relatively unrealistic might be distracting, but once you accept it, “Black Snake Moan” becomes a vehicle to a unique cinematic experience. It's a meditation on temptation and redemption.

This movie, from all angles, is gutsy. It offers nothing but pure pulpy goodness. Lazarus (that’s right, as in Lazarus) is a farmer in the deep South who’s just been dumped by his wife. He comes across Rae, half-naked and beaten, in the middle of the street. He soon discovers she suffers from a “sickness” and Lazarus puts it upon himself to cure her by—yes—chaining her to a radiator.

Samuel L. Jackson, who plays Lazarus, is firing on all cylinders here and delivers a memorable performance. He crafts a character here that isn’t the ‘bad-ass motherfucker’ he usually plays (or that we’ve all internalized through The Chappelle Show), but instead embraces the flaws in his own character. He’s not trying to save Rae, Rae is also an indication that he too is in need of saving. I actually liked his performance here more here than in “Pulp Fiction” (1994), which is saying a lot, and almost as much as his performance in “Jackie Brown” (1997).

I really only clearly remembered Christina Ricci from “The Ice Storm” (1997), which was a very good movie, and I barely remembered her performance in “Monster” (2003), so going into the movie I really didn’t have a clear idea about her talent level. Here, Ricci took a huge risk and it completely pays off. Sure she’s parading around in her underwear for half the film (I’m not quite sure why Lazarus didn’t give her a pair of shorts or a towel to cover up for the first few days of her captivity. Perhaps it dilutes the “cinematic effect” of panties), but she manages to create a character that is being "saved" but doesn't fall into the standard trope of the hopelessly vulnerable woman.

Here, the symbolism is in your face. The plot, like Christina Ricci, is stripped down to bare essentials. The plot devices are unapologetically exposed (chains, cued lightning, mysterious illnesses, a preacher-man, overt biblical references, moments of temptation, and a rusty blues guitarist with a southern drawl). What I love about this barebones story is that it forces the actors to really texture their characters and give them life. There are plenty of actors who could have bombed in these roles, Ricci’s in particular, so it is even more enjoyable to see the director pick the right people for the job.

This movie has an amazing soundtrack, featuring wonderful blues and blues rock tracks. One of the feature tracks is by "The Black Keys," who fit the mood of this movie perfectly. Samuel L. Jackson sings too, and he does a fantastic job.

Having seen this film, I am now very curious to see Elia Kazan’s film “Baby Doll” (1956), which is based on a Tennessee William’s play. I haven’t heard of it before, but I hear it was quite controversial (and still is). Time Magazine called it "Just possibly the dirtiest American-made motion picture that has ever been legally exhibited . . ." Can’t wait to see it.


A.H. Rajani said...

here's a link to the soundtrack:

Anonymous said...

sweet review; i haven't heard about this film at all. it's not playing around me and i haven't seen any commercials for it