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|Black Snake Moan
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E
dir-scr Craig Brewer
with Samuel L Jackson, Christina Ricci, Justin Timberlake, John Cothran Jr, Michael Raymond-James, S Epatha Merkerson, David Banner, Adriane Lenox, Kim Richards, Neimus K Williams, Leonard L Thomas, Ruby Wilson
release US 2.Mar.07, UK 18.May.07
07/US Paramount 1h56
Take a ride: Jackson and Ricci
Moody and full of atmosphere, this film has a terrific premise, but no plot to speak of. It's an intriguing character study, beautifully filmed and acted but ultimately somewhat empty.
Rae (Ricci) is a young woman with an all-consuming itch for sex. This is fine while her boyfriend Ronnie (Timberlake) is in town, but he's just left for National Guard duty. So she's pouncing on anyone who walks by. One morning she's found unconscious in the road by Lazarus (Jackson), a deeply religious man abandoned by his wife (Lenox). In Rae he sees a wayward woman who needs help, so he chains her to his radiator and tries to teach her the error of her ways, with the help of the local preacher (Cothran).
Brewer (Hustle & Flow) is great at catching rhythms and ambience, weaving a musical sensibility with gritty characters we can identify with even if they exist in a culture far removed from ours. This film is infused with the blues, the achingly soulful desire Lazarus calls a black snake moan. It's suggestive, sensuous and full of telling details, plus an undercurrent of dark humour. And deep-seated religious sensibilities sit intriguingly alongside physical longings.
The rich performances are a perfect compliment to the luxuriant tone. Jackson is especially engaging as a troubled man who probably understands that he needs to do more work on himself than on this sex-mad girl. And Ricci transforms herself as a white trash waif who's as completely controlled by her lust as Timberlake's wannabe thug is by his nerves. Together they make a fascinating--and rather scary--couple.
Unfortunately, the characters' experiences never truly resonate. We can understand Lazarus' impulse to take out his frustration on this wild girl, but it seems both too extreme and too gratefully received. In the end, the film's unstructured narrative feels somewhat draggy and aimless. It's a movie about people trying to either fix or hurt each other, to little or no effect. Rather a lot like a blues song, then. And it's worth seeing for the skilled acting and filmmaking. And the drop-dead gorgeous music.
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© 2007 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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