Original Review Date: 3/6/2007
Black Snake Moan is a tale about a rural section of society rarely seen on film with such authenticity and non-judgmentality. This is the follow-up to a good film that most directors hope for. In many respects, Black Snake Moan is better than director’s Craig Brewer’s previous film, Hustle & Flow. Black Snake Moan is a film about sadness and redemption, lending itself to be buttressed by vintage film clips of a musician from the Blues’ music genre. Christian Ricci and Samuel L. Jackson star in this film as two divergent individuals that are both dealing with crisis in their lives. Both actors depart from their comfort zones and take on deeper, edgier and more involved characters than their usual fare.
Jackson plays Lazarus, a God-fearing guitarist and retired Blues singer who grows vegetables and sells them to feed and support himself. When his wife leaves him for another man, outwardly he deals with it as anyone would, but inwardly you eventually see that he is deeply wounded. He is betrayed and he feels it, he does not want to, who would, but he does. Ricci plays Rae, whose boyfriend Ronnie, played by Justin Timberlake, has joined the Marines and is leaving her to train and to fight in the United States Military. Ronnie is the stabilizing force in Rae’s life and Rae in his. When Ronnie leaves, Rae begins to lose control of herself sexually. We find out later that she always gets this way, outwardly “affectionate” to strangers and near stranger, her friends, et cetera when Ronnie is not around. It is an itch that is never quite quenched no matter how much she indulges it and tries to fight against it.
When Lazarus and Rae finally meet in the film, Rae has been beaten unconscious by a wayward, would-be lover and left by a road side for dead. Lazarus mends her back to health and when she finally awakens after being in and out of consciousness for days, she finds a 40-pound chain wrapped around her waist. The chain is not for some twisted sexual fetish or used as a means of captivity per se. It is used as a medical tool; a means to keep someone from hurting themselves any further than they already have. While helping Rae with her problem, two significant events occur: We discover what the root of her problem most likely is and Lazarus begins to confront his bottled up emotions over his absconded wife. The former is seen through nightmare clips and memory flashes while the latter is slowly but surely dealt with through the playing of Blues on both a standard and electric guitar. The music has a medicinal effect on the both of them. It allows them to vent their emotions, letting the darkness out and the possibility of sunshine in. This is not the only way in which their problems are comforted in this film, but it is one of the most potent and major themes that runs throughout it. A particularly striking and noteworthy scene in the movie involves a Blues performance by Lazarus with a band at a local dive bar packed with people. With Rae in attendance, who soon joins in with everyone else on the dance floor, Lazarus unleashes a triad of musical lyrics that are classic Samuel L. Jackson.
Craig Brewer’s Black Snake Moan is a film about struggling to be more than what you are, about trying to rise above your plight in life no matter how steadfast other forces attempt to hold you down. One of the biggest surprises in Moan, though I would say the quality of the film is not really a surprise, was Justin Timberlake. He can actually act and act well. If I didn’t know about his history (i.e. his singing career), I would have thought he was just another up and coming actor. Black Snake Moan is one the most memorable theatrical stories of 2007 and something that should not be missed or lost amongst all of the substanceless fluff of national multiplexes.