Black Snake Moan
, 08 Jul 2007
Rae's (Ricci) got an itch and when her boyfriend Ronnie (Timberlake) leaves to join the army she goes out to get it scratched. After one wild night she's left; half naked, beaten and unconcious by the side of the road. The next morning Lazarus (Jackson) finds her and takes her into his house. Deteremined to cure her 'sickness' he chains her to his radiator so she won't be able to leave until she's 'better'.
It's been a bad few years to be a fan of either Samuel L Jackson or Christina Ricci. While Ricci has seen many projects stall before reaching the screen (The Gathering, Prozac Nation) Jackson has phoned in much of his work over the last five years. Craig Brewer couldn't then have picked a better time to get this oddest of couples together and deliver their best work in a great while.
The two seem almost to challenge one another, each bringing out the best in each other and their scenes together are electric. As Rae Ricci plays more overtly sexual than ever before. For most of the film she's clad in no more than a tiny crop top and panties but she manages to make you look past that and watch the performance rather than the near naked girl. It's a physical performance, driven much of the time by her presence rather than her dialogue and Ricci demonstrates once more that, when presented with a character, she's perhaps the best of her generation. She brings shading to Rae that doesn't feel like it was on the page but which lets you grow to like and empathise with the character as the film goes on. Combine this with her newly blonde hair, lithe frame and convincing southern accent and it's a complete transformation.
Jackson too seems more alive than he has been on screen for years. His performance as Lazarus is not simply Samuel L Jackson with a white beard singing the blues, he's a real and complex character. Jackson plays Lazarus as a conflicted man. He knows he shouldn't have chained this girl to his radiator, but he believes he's helping her by doing so. The only real problem with Jackson's performance is that his singing voice (and there's a LOT of singing in this film) is just not up to snuff. It's got texture, but only manages one note.
All this said the real revelation, performance wise is Justin Timberlake. No, really. His performance as Ronnie is absolutely natural and he's a great listener on screen with lots of telling little reactions to others dialogue. If he stopped making horrid Prince lite music and knuckled down to acting he'd make a good career of it.
Craig Brewer's first film; Hustle and Flow was, he said, his rap film. Black Snake Moan is his blues film. The soundtrack is simply stunning. The wailing blues guitars suit the movie down to the ground and if, by the time Lazarus is playing in a club near the end of the film your toes aren't tapping you may wish to make sure they aren't nailed to the floor.
It's not without problems. Rae's background is introduced late and feels perfunctory as does Lazarus' relationship with a woman at the local drugstore. These though are quibbles; Black Snake Moan is a great time at the movies and worth seeing for Ricci and Jackson alone.
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