Black Snake Moan: 4 Stars (out of 5)
The guy that gave us Hustle & Flow directs a film about Samuel Jackson chaining a nympho Christina Ricci to his furnace in the deep south. There. That’s all you need to know to know that Black Snake Moan is going to be a damn good movie. You don’t even have to bother reading this review if you don’t want to, just get in your goddamn car and drive to seediest theater you can find, and prepare to indulge in some of the most authentic but still mentally engaging film cheese to ever be put into wide release.
Jackson’s easily one of the most entertaining leading men in Hollywood. He can act when he wants to, but even when he doesn’t he’s got a presence that demands you pay him your attention without ever getting in your face about it. It makes him the perfect choice for Lazarus, a God-fearing man abandoned by his women. As the movie progresses, he finds meaning in his life when a half-naked but fully-bruised and feverish vixen named Rae (Ricci) is dumped in his driveway; and seeing this as an opportunity to instill the ways of our Lord and Savior into a wayward soul, Lazarus keeps Rae (against her will) in his home surrounded by the Tennessee countryside.
Craig Brewer, the writer/director of the film, is the perfect man for the job. He finds a delicate balance between a poignant drama that something to say, and Blaxploitation for the film. It’s like Foxy Brown with a brain. Jackson still gets to act like a crazy southern man and Ricci still gets to writhe about in greatly exploitative fashion several times over, but behind it Brewer has hidden a statement that tells the audience that despite the problems that plague us, we’ll always have each other.
Not unlike Brewer’s last film, Black Snake Moan is often driven by its soundtrack. Filled to the brim with Blues songs infected by woes and southern drawl, it’s the soul of the film. The Blues make a for a perfect companion to the story, about two people who’ve just been torn from their lovers; and to some essence the film is as much of a Blues film in itself – with characters delivering delicious dialogue about what’s causing their ills. One such scene shows Jackson at his electric guitar, playing chords that echo the thunderstorm outside as he recalls his lowest moment. Jackson’s worn voice complements his guitar’s high and fuzzy moans. The song is more than just well sung and produced, the final effect is sure to give you goosebumps as you watch with giddy admiration for the character.
It’s also worth mentioning that this is the second of four movies Justin Timberlake has set for release this year. Timberlake stays grounded as a shaky reject while letting Samuel L. take most of the glory in this one, but Timberlake’s performance is solid and well-executed nonetheless. Just as in the Alpha Dog (read my review here,) Timberlake is proving himself a worthy actor and leaves this critic interested as to where his filmography is headed. But if his career is the kind that starts off with a film that’s as much of a success as Black Snake Moan, then it’s safe to say he’s going places.
Black Snake Moan is rated R for strong sexual content, language, some violence and drug use, with a running time of 115 minutes.