Black Snake Moan

Black Snake Moan

Film review by: Witney Seibold



 Craig Brewer’s “Black Snake Moan” has a strange message: Nymphomania can be cured by a little bit of S&M domination and the raw twang of steel guitar blues.

            It’s also a film that starts out as a fascinating character drama, turns into a penetrating relationship piece, and eventually deteriorates into early-’80s TV-movie psychological mishmash. And, oddly, it’s hard to take your eyes off of it.



Lazarus (Samuel L. Jackson) is an old bluesman and local
Georgia farmer whose wife has just left him for a better man. Rae (Christina Ricci who gets topless a lot in this film, and lost a hell of a lot of weight) just saw her fiancée Ronnie (whiny popboy Justin Timberlake) off to war, which has unleashed a bout of uncontrollable nymphomania within her. While Lazarus is bulldozing his ex’s rose garden, Rae is taking drugs and sleeping with anything with a pulse and penis. Eventually she takes the wrong drugs and seduces the wrong guy, and winds up battered and naked on the side of the road. She is found by Lazarus, who feels she’s a little too stoned and wily for her own good, and takes it upon himself to chain he to his radiator to sort of detoxify her. Lazarus preaches the gospel and blues. She whines and shrieks and tries to seduce him, but nothing doing.


Eventually, Lazarus becomes a father figure to Rae. She is let off the chain, and is allowed to go back in town. She begins facing her childhood demons with her cold-shouldered mother, and he begins a sweet courtship with the local pharmacist (S. Epatha Merkerson). Ronnie comes back from the war, having been diagnosed with bad nerves, and the two of them marry, promising not to let the others’ foibles get to them (a sudden change facilitated by the local clergyman/shrink Rev R.L., played by John Cothran, Jr.). From now on, Justin stops and takes a deep breath when he has a panic attack, and Rae tightens a new jewelry chain around her waist.


Um… O.k. 


This is one of the strangest redemption stories I have seen in the movies. Lazarus is obviously trying to do his daily good mitzvah by helping Rae, and, as a consequence, purify himself from the sins of his past. Rae is trying to work through old abuses and current sexual chaos. In fact, every character is deeply damaged in some way, and it’s not until the kindly old shrink appears that everything becomes well (hence my mention of ‘80s TV-movie psycho-mishmash above). Lazarus has learned to love and love the blues again. Fine enough. But Rae’s solution is a little more sketchy, and involves no small level of kink.            

But throughout all of this, writer/director Brewer (of “Hustle & Flow” fame) keeps the characters strong and clear. The drama moves forward in a convincing way, and the performances are excellent. Well, except for maybe Justin Timberlake, who is supposed to be an angry young man with nerve problems, and comes across as a dainty and whiny cityboy. But then, Ronnie is supposed to be weaker than he projects himself, so perhaps the casting was canny. I just thought he was a little annoying. It’s an enthralling piece of truly original drama. It may seem a bit off, but Brewer was at least daring enough to go to new places, and he did it in an effective way.

Published in: on May 16, 2007 at 10:48 pm  Leave a Comment  

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