|© 2007 by C.E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.
|L to R: Samuel L. Jackson as Lazarus and Christina Ricci
as Rae in
BLACK SNAKE MOAN
Photo by Bruce Talamon
© 2007 Paramount Vantage
different film from what several of my
colleagues did -- even those who were at the
same screening. That's the only way I can this
movie. Frankly, I'm shocked by the number of
critics who have been praising the film. To my
mind, the movie doesn't even rate to be called
camp. It's simply a bad idea gone wrong.
Now I had a mixed reaction to Craig Brewer's
sophomore film, HUSTLE & FLOW, as well.
(Too much "hustle" in my opinion). Where that
film utilized a hip-hop soundtrack, the
filmmaker decided to use the blues to infuse
his tale of a young white woman stricken with
nymphomania (Christina Ricci) and the black
man who decides to "cure" her of her affliction
(Samuel L. Jackson).
The advertising campaign for the film utilizes
art work that is meant to recall the pulp novel
of the early 20th Century. Scenes of a chained
Ricci in a submissive pose, a manly Jackson
wielding that large and heavy looking chain, or
Ricci with the chain around her waist prostrate
before Jackson. These might lead a viewer to
think he or she will be seeing some sort of pulp
fiction type movie, a sort of throwback to the
1950s dramas about race relations.
So the ad campaign is subversive. And I
suppose we are to think that Brewer's film is
too. It opens with two entwined, sweaty
bodies. They are Rae (Ricci) and Ronnie (Justin
Timberlake) and they are spending one final
night before he ships off to join the military.
(There's no direct mention, but we are
supposed to assume he is on his way to Iraq or
Afghanistan.) Ronnie, despite his jangly nerves
and tendency to upchuck, is embarking on a
military career so he can earn money to move
out of the Tennessee burb in which he and Rae
currently live. Almost minutes after he's on that
bus, though, Rae is running through the fields
and banging on her thighs. She's in the throes
of being "possessed" by her desire for sex. Sure
enough, she turns into a tramp, ingests large
quantities of booze and drugs and has
indiscriminate sex with any man who wants her.
Watching Ricci navigate these scenes, I didn't
know whether to laugh at her pitiful attempts
to act or feel sorry for her for being subjected
to the material, especially when the audience
learns that she has become that way due to
childhood sexual abuse by the men in her
Rae ends up beaten and unconscious on a dirt
road in the middle of nowhere and she's located
by Lazarus (Jackson), a former bluesman turned
bean farmer. Lazarus has been dealing with his
own troubles. His wife (the terrific Adriane
Lenox who in a handful of scenes etched a
woman filled with scorn and frustration) has
just left him -- for his younger brother. Alone
and hurting, he discovers Rae and takes her
into his home. Through a convoluted means, he
discovers that she is suffering from some sort
of "sickness" and he takes it upon himself to
cure her. One of his remedies is to chain her to
a radiator so she cannot run off.
I know Brewer means for the chain to be
symbolic and all, but I found it laughable.
Watching Ricci walk around the place mimicking
a dog in heat with a large chain around her
almost anorexic waist was not my idea of a fun
time. She and Jackson try to create
fully-rounded characters but the script defeats
them. The only two actors who registered as far
as I was concerned were the aforementioned
Lenox and S. Epatha Merkerson as a kindly
pharmacist with a crush on Jackson's character.
For me BLACK SNAKE MOAN was merely
ludicrous and unbelievable. I know that many of
my fellow reviewers are lauding it and praising
the lead performances, but I felt that Ricci and
Jackson had been directed in a manner to make
Renée Zellweger's unsubtle hillbilly performance
in COLD MOUNTAIN seem downright
Shakespearean. Jackson and Ricci appear to be
auditioning for a remake of Tennessee Williams'
BABY DOLL, but BABY DOLL as filtered
through the perspective of Williams'
lobotomized sister Rose. I saw the film at a
critics' screening and I felt I wanted to ask for
my money back -- so if you are inclined to check
it out -- you do so at your own peril.
language, some violence
and drug use
Running time: 116 mins.