By Vic Holtreman
Short version: Funny, gripping, violent, and erotic, this movie from the creator of "Hustle and Flow" stands out from the crowd big time.
Black Snake Moan was a hot ticket at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival, and little did I know that I was attending the premiere of the film at that particular showing. It was through sheer luck that I got in, trading my ticket for the very wierd horror-comedy Teeth for the opportunity to see this film. That was a good call. :-) My bad call was to leave while the director and cast were still on stage to see the absolutely dreadful Weapons, which I'll be reviewing here as well.
The film stars the awesome Samuel L. Jackson and (in this movie, anyway) sexual heat personified in the person of Christina Ricci. The film opens with a bang (if you'll pardon the pun) showing a sex scene between Rae (Ricci) and Ronnie (Justin Timberlake) which is, for lack of a better word - intense. Let me just say now, that between the sex, violence and drug use in this movie, PLEASE for the love of Pete do NOT bring little ones to see this when it's released this February!!!
We're then introduced to what's going on with both Rae and Lazarus (Jackson). Ronnie is leaving Rae to go to Iraq. Once he gets back he wants to open an auto body shop and be with Rae. We meet Lazarus talking to his friend and pastor about an impending meeting where his pastor is trying to convince Lazarus to keep his cool. It turns out that Lazarus' wife is in the restaurant and is leaving him after 25 years of marriage because he makes her feel old. Presumably she's leaving him for a younger man, and yes, we do find out who. Lazarus is beside himself with the news and the fact that no reconciliation is possible.
Back to Rae: It turns out that she was sexually abused as a child, presumably for a long period of time, and the aftereffects manifest themselves from time to time in an intense need to have sex with someone. Anyone available at the moment will do. Within a couple of hours of Ronnie leaving she is satisfying this need with a local small-time drug dealer, and later on goes to a party where she gets drugged and drunk out of her mind and is left behind semi-naked in a field. Ronnie's best friend (who drove Ronnie to the bus station) shows up to give her a ride home, seemingly playing a good guy. However things blow up in his truck between them and he beats her severely and leaves her for dead in the middle of the road.
The next morning Lazarus finds her unconscious and bloody in the middle of the road near his property and decides to take her in and try to help. In addition to having her face beaten and bloodied, she's been suffering from a serious cough and fever, so he goes off into town to fetch something for that from the local pharmacy. The lady pharmacist is interested in Lazarus so she agrees to give him the medicine for free to help his "neice", since he can't afford a doctor.
He cleans up Rae's face, gives her medicine and ends up putting her in icewater in the tub in order to break her fever. At one point he went into town to try and find out who did this to her and is led to the drug dealer mentioned earlier, who informs Lazarus of Rae's peculiar and intense need for sex and mentions the large number of people that she has used to satisfy that need. It becomes clear however that he is not the person who beat her up.
Lazarus decides that he will "cure" her of this sickness, but when in a half-delirium she has a nightmare and he finds her outside in the middle of the night he decides to chain her up and that's where the chemistry between Jackson and Ricci onscreen begins. What Lazarus doesn't realize is that his attempt to cure Rae will also help him find peace for his own soul regarding the betrayal he feels concerning his wife.
Writer/Director Craig Brewer has done an amazing job with Black Snake Moan and it was a wonderful experience to see this film right after I had watched the boring and over-hyped Hounddog. The only reason I didn't give this stars is because I didn't really like the Ronnie character, played by Timberlake. I don't know if it was his performance or just the way the character was written, but he was the weak link in the film. Aside from that, the film was great fun and I loved seeing the transformation of both Rae and Lazarus as they fought with their inner demons and came to terms with themselves. Outside of that, it was excellent. The pacing of the movie kept things moving, there were no extraneous scenes that could have been left out, and the music... man oh man what great music.
Samuel L. Jackson I can watch in just about anything. Either the man just melts into his roles or he has a knack for choosing characters that fit him like a glove. His righteous indignation was a blast to watch and seeing him soften as the film went on while somehow retaining his hard edge was very satisfying. Christina Ricci was hotness on wheels in this movie, I don't know how else to put it. Although she captured the look of a poor, alcohol and drug addicted young twenty-something to perfection through her attitude and underweight appearance, it was still obvious how beautiful she was/could be and the heat she was able to generate onscreen was formidable. (I predict many, many DVD sales to the male population with this one).
Once again, this is NOT for the kiddies, but as an adult film it was a blast.