With remakes, popular comic-book adaptations and hyped-up sequels constantly filling the venues of most cinemas, it’s not often that audiences have the opportunity to see a truly original movie. In that respect, Craig Brewer’s “Black Snake Moan” is a rare delicacy. Well, maybe that’s pushing it – there’s not really anything delicate about it.
Brewer first touched bases with audiences with his 2005 Sundance hit “Hustle & Flow,” and this follow-up detailing the unlikely bond between an old blues musician and a young, tortured nymphomaniac is another tale of hope and goodness found in the most unlikely place.
Samuel L. Jackson (“Snakes on a Plane”), the go-to Hollywood presence who never lets his audience down, plays Lazarus, a farmer whose old passion for playing and singing the blues has been recently refueled by the departure of his cheating wife. His problems only get worse when he finds a beat-up, unconscious, half-naked young woman on the side of the road. That would be Rae (Christina Ricci, “Prozac Nation”), a local girl with an uncertified sex addiction and head full of bad memories. Lazarus brings her home and sets her on his couch to recover from her drugged-up hangover.
After some casual investigation, Lazarus learns of his charge’s long history of wild behavior, and when Rae finally comes out of her feverish hangover, she finds herself chained to Lazarus’s radiator – a precautionary method to keep her locked up while he “cures” her of her “wickedness.” Thus the battle of wits, and an unlikely friendship, begins.
With that unconventional story and a strong range of acting (with the lackluster exception of surprise-cast Justin Timberlake, as Rae’s soldier husband Ronnie), “Black Snake Moan” has a lot of potential – but a few unsettling problems as well.
Neither writer nor director knows whose story this is. By the end of the film’s first act, the situation has Lazarus as the recently wronged protagonist and little nympho Rae as his challenge, but the film’s final chapters shift focus to the relationship problems of Rae and Ronnie. This is not to say supporting characters shouldn’t have their own stories, but when Lazarus is not even active in that film’s climax and when his problem’s solution has nothing to do with his decision to help Rae, it becomes clear the movie suffers from misdirection.
This ties in to the movie’s other main problem – there is no clear conflict. Is it Lazarus vs. Rae, Rae vs. her mother, Rae vs. her past, Lazarus vs. his ex-wife, Rae vs. Ronnie? By the end of the film, half the problems introduced are left unanswered, and not in the good way.
That being said, this isn’t that other Samuel L. Jackson movie with “Snake” in the title. Its colorful dialogue and inconspicuous, unpretentious direction are both laudable. You just don’t need to stand when you clap.
Three stars out of five
Black Snake Moan
At the State Theater, Quality 16 and Showcase