The premise, admittedly, sounds like a joke: A blues musician named Lazarus (Samuel L. Jackson) chains the town tramp, Rae (Christina Ricci), to a radiator in order to cure her of her wickedness. But don't worry: Though writer-director Craig Brewer expects us to consider the film as a thoughtful work of art, Black Snake Moan is meant to be outlandish — more gothic allegory than realistic drama.
As a huge fan of Brewer's last film, Hustle & Flow, I really wanted to like this movie. What surprised me was why I disliked it, so
Believe it or not, the wacky premise isn't the problem. From the gratuitous (and hot) opening sex scene between Rae and her beau Ronnie (Justin Timberlake), I was willing to go along with the fact that this woman's nymphomania was so intense that the moment Ronnie leaves town, she is forced to screw everything in site. It even seemed plausible that this behavior could get her beat up and left by the side of the road, only to be discovered by well-meaning Laz. Hell, I was even going along with the whole chained-to-the-radiator thing out of admiration for what Brewer was trying to do.
Specifically, the director fashions a sort of grotesque Southern-gothic tale that reminds me of the novels of Harry Crews. Thanks to a fateful meeting, two damaged people come together to fend off each other's demons. Amid this, Jackson is quite capable as the bewildered healer, while Ricci is appropriately reflective or haughty when she needs to be.
My main problem with Black Snake Moan, frankly, is that I was bored about a quarter of the way in. Beyond the premise and the flimsy plot, there's really just not much to it. For a movie that starts with such a bang, it's startlingly devoid of tension throughout. We're supposed to believe that Laz helps Rae overcome her sickness while she becomes his muse, reawakening his passion for the blues. But really, we never see or feel much connection to these characters, who in the end are frustratingly one dimensional.
Black Snake Moan didn't make me give up on Craig Brewer: I still think he's a director worth watching. I just wish I could say the same thing for the movie.
Photos courtesy of Paramount Vantage