Black Snake Moan - A Better Jackson Snake Movie
| The first word I heard to describe Black Snake Moan was “misogynist.” Whenever I hear such a trite summation of a film, it usually only makes me want to see it more.
And I am glad I did. I can honestly report that I didn’t find the film misogynist at all. This rational comes from the fact that Christina Ricci spends some time in the movie chained to a radiator. Sure, on the surface, without doing any analysis, a woman chained up by a man seems fairly misogynist. However, like most labels that get thrown around, it comes from failing to understand what’s going on in the film and what that film is saying about it.
What’s going on in Black Snake Moan is a couple of amazing performances. Samuel L Jackson, who makes a lot of crappy films but shines when he gets the kind of role that allows him to really act, plays Laz, a former blues player, cuckolded by his wife because he was unable to love her properly. Ricci plays Rea, a sex addict whose one real love has left for the army to try a make a life for them. In her misery, she returns to the one thing she knows will ease her pain. Too bad it’s destroying her life.
Ricci is mesmerizing as the tortured young woman who, through abuse and self loathing, has crafted a self destructive coping mechanism that leaves her beat up and unconscious on the side of the road. Jackson, is even more intense as an equally self destructive loser who drive his wife away through his inability to love. When he finds Ricci bleeding, he takes her in a tries, in his clumsy way, to save her and in the process, she is able to save him.
And the chains? Well, they make up a surprisingly small part of the film for all the attention they get. Black Snake Moan is actually about freedom. The freedom these two souls find in the way they connect and help each other. Each one grows to a place where they can be brave and learn how to take care of themselves and those around them.
Along the way there is some amazing music. Like director Craig Brewer’s last film, Hustle and Flow, Black Snake Moan showcases music and uses it as a means of telling the story and emotion. He doesn’t do this through music in the background but in the foreground, integrating it into the fabric of the film. Through this, and the remarkable performances, Black Snake Moan hits something raw and exposed, even with its stylized presentation.
The weakness of the film comes mostly from Justin Timberlake’s performance. Maybe it’s just because he is playing opposite such skilled co-stars but the singer, who isn’t terrible, just never quite seems believable. The biggest obstacle is his 14 year old sounding voice which elicits giggles when he tries to be all tough.
Still, the rest of the cast makes up for it. Jackson and Ricci dig into their roles and the intensity in Jackson’s eyes is gripping. It’s the kind of performance that you can’t turn away from. Paired with the music and Brewer’s lush film making, Black Snake Moan is a hot and sticky ride that’s very satisfying.