Black Snake Moan
Oh, Lordy! If you've had the good fortune to see the trailer for Black Snake Moan, you'll know that it's an incredibly salacious, sleazy and provocative number involving Cristina Ricci looking very nubile in a t-shirt, panties and chain, while Samuel L Jackson sings the blues.
What you may not realise is that underneath the skin, this is actually a bit of a Sunday School film, a preachy fable with some decidedly old fashioned ideas about men and women.
Writer-director Craig Brewer is a white guy from Tennessee who made a small splash with Hustle & Flow a couple of years ago - the story of a benevolent pimp (Terrence Howard) discovering his inner rap artist.
Sticking on the wrong side of the tracks, he's cast Sam Jackson as Lazarus, a poor Southern farmer recently deserted by his wife, who's run off with his brother. He's not happy about it.
Ricci is Rae, a blonde nymphomaniac who is in love with Ronnie (Justin Timberlake), but who takes it wherever she can find it - even before he's enlisted in the National Guard. Drowning her sorrows at this desertion the only way she knows how, Rae winds up bruised and battered on the side of a dirt road right outside Lazarus's lonesome shack. He takes her in and tends her wounds, but when she comes to she finds he's chained her to the radiator.
The situation seems set for sexploitation. Even the title insinuates as much. But quite the opposite: Lazarus has got that old time religion. He doesn't lust after this little white tramp's body, he means to save her soul. And if she can learn some cooking at the same time, all the better.
The trouble with Black Snake Moan is not that it goes down an unexpected path, it's that after the first twenty minutes or so the movie goes limp on us. Rae's spunkiness is no match for Lazarus's iron will, and even if he has to learn to temper his righteous indignation, it's hard not read the film as a sexist parable about the taming of a wild woman.
By the end Rae has made peace with her demons, put on some clothes, and she's talking about marriage - to Ronnie, of course, not to Lazarus, who has his own more colour-appropriate match lined up in the middle-aged churchy pharmacist (S Epatha Merkerson). Rae even sings a reedy verse of 'This Little Light of Mine' to nail down her redemption. It's to Ricci's considerable credit that she plays this role full throttle, and somehow saves it from itself.
Whatever his limitations in other departments, Brewer has rhythm; the movie is scored and edited with gusto, and Samuel L Jackson proves a very passable blues picker. But there's only so much you can do with two people in a room when there isn't a writer in the house. Having raised the boogey-men of race, sex and slavery, Brewer beats a speedy retreat to psycho-banalities and the steam soon goes out of this engine.
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