I was drawn to this movie because I enjoyed director Craig Brewer's earlier film, "Hustle and Flow". If anything, I liked "Black Snake Moan" even better. The movie combines tawdry and lurid components with a tale of love, forgiveness, and hope. I don't think the film is exploitative. Instead it suggests in a simple way how sensual and redemptive parts of life often complement each other.
In thinking about this movie, I was reminded of George Eliot's novel, "Silas Marner", the bane of every high school student. In Eliot's novel, Marner, an embittered miser finds redemption when he raises Eppie, an orphaned girl, from childhood to young adulthood. Similarly, "Black Snake Moan" tells the story of a middle-aged black American man, Lazarus, portrayed by Samuel Jackson, who feels embittered when Rose, his wife of 12 years, leaves him for his best friend. Lazarus happens upon a young scantily dressed white woman, Rae, played by Christina Ricci, who has been beaten and left near-dead on a country road following a wild party. Lazarus takes her into his home and tries to teach and care for her. Ultimately, the movie suggests, both Lazarus and Rae receive a kind of hope, Rae by marrying her boyfriend, Lazarus by finding what may be a promising new relationship.
The story gets life through a great deal of tawdry sex. At the turning point of the movie, Lazarus chains Rae to a radiator to prevent her escape. Rae was a victim of sexual abuse and a neglectful mother, and in her boyfriend's temporary absence for military service, she throws herself at every man she can find. She appears in the movie scantily clad, in a cut-off blouse with a Confederate flag and in shorts. Lazarus has his own frustrations to work out from the loss of Rose, his wife. A black preacher, the Reverend R.L., played by John Cotham, helps both Lazarus and Rae and is the quiet hero of this movie.
In this movie, atmosphere and scene count for a great deal. The story is set in a small Tennessee town near Nashville, and the story is redolent with poor Southern life, both black and white. There is scenes in shacks and farms, and small town stores and streets, and in clubs and bars that bring the movie to life. Brewer shows the same love for and knowledge of the rural South that he showed in "Hustle and Flow". Most importantly there is music. The tale of sex and redemption is captured in the flow of the blues in a soundtrack and in performances by Lazarus himself. Jackson spent long hours learning the blues guitar in preparation for this movie. The movie includes two scenes of footage with the great Delta bluesman Son House holding forth appropriately on love, loss, and the blues. Music is a redemptive force in people's lives, and in this movie of the hot-blooded South, redemption comes through the blues.
I found the tawdry elements of this movie an essential part of the story it had to tell. "Black Snake Moan" is rewarding.
So, let me get this straight. The Deep South. A young, white woman (Christina Ricci) who is also a nymphomaniac, ends up on the doorstep of an aging, black blues singer (Samuel L. Jackson) and he decides to chain her to his radiator. Have I returned to another era of filmmaking? When I first heard about this story, I did a double take. "Black Snake Moan" could be very bad; there are a lot of inherent problems with this story. Or it could be very good; the synopsis has so many weird, uncommon elements that it almost guarantees it will be something wonderful. I am happy to report the latter is true.
I didn't love "Hustle and Flow", writer - director Craig Brewer's last film, but I liked it. I just wasn't won over by the story of a pimp who wants to become a rapper. If there's anything we learned from the film its "Don't you know it's hard out there for a pimp".
So when I first heard about "Black Snake Moan", Brewer's follow-up, I was not excited. Then I started to really pay attention to the previews and the images. Okay, this is going to be one strange movie and sometimes strange movies are beautiful because they have a license to go places we don't expect. "Black Snake Moan" is all of these things; strange, beautiful and also contains great performances from Jackson (one of his best) and Ricci (certainly her best).
The first thing "Black Snake" does is set up the two main characters, establishing their lives, before they meet. This may sound like a given, but Brewer spends a significant amount of time showing the despair each person has in their lives, for different reasons, giving us a chance to get to know each of them.
Rae (Ricci) begs her boyfriend Ronnie, (Justin Timberlake) to not go to Basic Training. But he has to go, this is the only way they are ever going to escape the trailer park they live in and have a chance to escape their white trash roots. She runs after the truck in her daisy dukes and oversize flannel shirt and then drops to the ground, crying. As soon as he is gone, she gets the `itch', something she is only occasionally able to control. This time, she won't be able to control it. She calls up the local small time drug dealer, a black man, and they are soon going at it in a seedy motel room. Later, she attends a large party, wearing the same daisy dukes and a cut off t-shirt bearing the Confederate flag (really just a strip of cloth making a valiant effort to cover her breasts, frequently giving up the fight) and tries to hook up. With anyone and everyone. Unable to find someone, she takes some pills and before you can whistle Dixie, she is running around in her panties and a football guard playing a game of football with some friends. Before you know it, she is having sex on the lawn, amid hundreds of used plastic cups. Later, she ends up with a bloody nose on the dirt road outside of Lazarus' small farm.
Lazarus (Jackson) has troubles of his own. A former Blues musician, he learns his wife has been cheating on him with his brother. She wants to leave, but his brother won't leave without his blessing. Lazarus shows great restraint in a confrontation between them. The local preacher, a childhood friend, tries to offer him guidance, but Lazarus won't have any of it. Returning home drunk, he throws all of his wife's possessions into a garbage bag before passing out. The next morning, he takes the garbage bags out to the trash and spots the young girl. He soon realizes she is hurt and tries to figure out what to do. If he calls for help, he will be immediately blamed and may end up in jail. He decides to take her in and help her. He visits the local pharmacist, Angela (S. Epatha Merkerson, TV's "Law and Order") and she gives him some cough medicine for `his niece's' cough.
Fading in and out of consciousness, Lazarus helps her get rid of her cough and tries to help with the black eye and the cuts and bruises. In a moment of lucidity, she attacks Lazarus, trying to tame her `itch' and have sex with him, leading him to find out about her nymphomania. In order to control her, he chains her to the radiator.
When she comes to, wearing her panties and t-shirt, she assumes something happened, but he assures her it didn't. Well, if he wants to, he can, as long as he lets her go. He won't have any of it. He has to help her.
This only begins to scratch he surface of "Black Snake Moan". Because the film is basically about these two characters, and we spend a significant amount of time with them, we learn a lot about each. But it is a testament to each actor that these moments of knowledge come through their performances, one of Jackon's best and certainly Ricci's best to date.
Christina Ricci deserves a lot of credit for the simple rawness of the performance. There aren't many actresses that would take on this type of role, let alone abandon themselves to the character. Rae is half nude throughout most of the film. Naturally, this character, a woman so loose with her sexuality, so promiscuous, would find nudity a natural thing. And the character does bare her breasts a few times. She also has sex with more than one person. But all of these images are presented in a very matter-of-fact way and illustrate the character's soullessness. When she meets Lazarus and he starts to care for her, this behavior stops, because he won't allow it. Gradually, as she realizes he cares for her, she starts to listen to him. She doesn't change completely, or quickly, making the character seem all the more natural.
This performance is very raw and fitting for the character. Ricci seems to give everything she has to the role, making it a memorable, vibrant performance. When she starts to change, we have lived part of the journey with her and we feel as though we have changed with her.
Samuel L. Jackson also seems to lose in the role of Lazarus. Every time we go to a movie, we may recognize the actors playing the role. Not surprisingly, the less famous an actor, the more easily they `become' the character they are playing because we are more likely to forget they are an actor playing a role. Samuel L. Jackson has made many films, many of those very popular, so he is very recognizable. An established actor always has more difficulty disappearing into the character. But Jackson seems to disappear into this character for large stretches of time, allowing me to forget I was watching the famous actor who has also appeared in "Pulp Fiction ", "Snakes on a Plane" and many others. The fact that he can fully immerse himself into the character at all speaks to his ability to make this character seem real.
From the moment we first meet him, we experience some of the troubles Lazarus has with his community, with his wife, with his life. When he finds Ricci on the dirt road, he has to help her. But he has to be cautious. It wouldn't look good for an aging black man to be seen with a half naked white woman, let alone one who has been beaten up. So he looks both ways, to make sure no one is watching and takes her inside.
The more involved he gets in her recovery, the more we realize he needed such a `project' to give meaning to his life. This also brings him into contact with the pharmacist, a woman who clearly has a little `itch' of her own for the aging Blues singer. Throughout the course of the story, Lazarus heals through his interactions with the young lady and may be able to get his life back on track after all.
Justin Timberlake is also good as, Ricci's boyfriend. Going beyond stunt casting, he actually shows he has some acting chops as he makes the character's difficulties real and substantive.
"Black Snake Moan" is a simply made film. The action centers at Lazarus' small farm in the middle of nowhere. Occasionally, he goes into town or other characters come out to the farm and interact with him, but I can't imagine this film cost a lot of money to make. Which makes sense because I am pretty sure if the budget for this film were too high, it never would have been made.
I'm glad "Black Snake Moan" was made, because it contains two great performances, introducing us to characters we have never seen before, and likely are not to see often again. It is also a believable, well-made tale of redemption for two people who need to have some meaning in their lives.
This strange film is, at times, quite a beautiful film.
on July 1, 2007
Craig Brewer (Hustle and Flow) directs his second mainstream film and John Singleton produces. Black Snake Moan stars Samuel L. Jackson as Lazarus, a religious man living in a small southern town. Lazarus is also a blues musician. His demons are that his wife left him for his own brother and for this he is riddled with anger. Christina Ricci plays Rae, who is an overly promiscuous girl who is traumatized by a history of child sexual abuse. On top of that her boyfriend Ronnie has left to join the National Guard. Ronnie is played by Justin Timberlake. After Ronnie leaves, Rae ends up having a pretty bad evening that leaves her scantily clad and beat up in the middle of a dirt road. She is left on a road just in front of Lazarus's house. After helping her get better, he soon comes to find out who Rae is and what kind of reputation she has. Lazarus sees this as a sign from god that he must heal her of her wickedness in order to receive some redemption for himself. So he ties her up to a giant 40 pound chain.
The film has a great atmosphere. It comes off as sticky and sweaty throughout and plays with that imagery as the characters develop. It consistently offers references to blues music and the characters are loud and full of life. It comes off as exploitative in some ways but that is ultimately done for a greater cause. Samuel L. Jackson is always good, even in really bad movies, but this is one of his best roles in many years. The real star here though is Christina Ricci who I've always felt is doing whatever she wants for now but one day she will be hailed as one of the best actresses around after a performance that hits the mainstream just right. Unfortunately for her though Black Snake Moan has not yet been a commercial success. None of that really matters though because it is still a very good movie although both Jackson and Ricci are even better than the screenplay and direction demand.
Some people say the film is hypocritical for sexualizing Rae and offering several erotic scenes with her, while at the same time presenting a negative view of sexuality. Firstly, I disagree that the film portrays sexuality as a negative but instead portrays excess as a negative. I did not feel hammered down by any messages that sex is wrong. Secondly, Black Snake Moan is definitely not meant to be erotic. It certainly rings of exploitation films but by watching Rae's transformation away from nymphomania and toward stabilization, away from her history of abuse to some degree of resolution, away from vulnerable to honest and confident, and away from being naked to being clothed; I can't help but think this is a fiercely unsexy film that is against hypersexuality alone. To be pro-spirituality and critical of actions often perceived as sinful is not puritanical and not even necessarily anti-sex. I would even argue that this movie uses religion only as a tool, but healing in general as its primary message despite the powerful Christian overtones. No matter how you look at it Black Snake Moan is, above all, a film that reinforces morality. It also happens to be quite entertaining.
on July 2, 2007
Black Snake Moan sure has a weird hook. Setting: Deep South. An older black man who plays the blues keeps a white nymphomaniac on a chain to cure her of her horniness. About half-way through, my husband turned to me and said "And why exactly did you think I would like this movie?" I winced and said I thought it would have blues as more of a central theme. But guess what, he stayed around and pronounced it a good movie after all! His summary is the best: "everyone has their struggles, and you are never really free of them."
The performances are exceedingly strong, the setting of Tennessee bucolic and beautiful. You really feel as if you are in this small, rural town where everyone knows each other.
Black Snake Moan is bold, and really gives you a sense of empathy for the different characters. Most importantly, it provides hope that if you have your own struggles, someone will be out there for you as well, not to judge you or cure you, but to love you.
on June 29, 2007
Sure, I went to the theater for the lurid scenario, but I was caught off guard by the strangely sweet story and the palpable passion of the characters.
If you think that this is one of "those movies," you're only half right, and maybe less than half. This movie is a surprise. If you are apprehensive of the title, all I can say is "Get over it." You don't want to miss this film.
Another movie cementing the acting abilities of Christina Ricci, Justin Timberlake and Samuel L. Jackson. Set in the deep south, Jackson, who's wife just left him him and declared to him she doesn't love him, finds a battered Ricci by the side of the road. Jackson takes her in with a pledge to God he was going to nurse her both physically and mentally.
Pretty good premise, two battered souls seeking healing through each other. The story goes along nicely and we have some wonderful emotional play between the main characters and, some surprisingly good blues from Jackson. Ricci delivers another great character driven role and Jackson, well, he's just his super presence self again. Set in the deep South, the story is somewhat allegorical in nature and draws you in well. The focus is the relationship that comes about between Jackson and Ricci despite the circumstances under which they met. Justin Timberlake delivers a pretty good performance as Ricci's boyfriend shipped overseas.
Here's the thing, despite the true meaning of the movie, there's this heavy linked chain Jackson attaches to Ricci so as to keep her in the house as opposed to go off wandering and getting into more trouble. The chain and Ricci's scantily clad body is how the movie will be marketed and, therefore, judged even before anyone has seen it and given it a chance. Sad really as the cast has strength enough to draw viewers based on their merits.
This is truly a shame as the acting, and the message, are excellent.
In the racist South, the last thing an African American man needs is to find a half-naked White woman out on the road behind his home.
Yet, that is exactly what bluesman Lazarus (Samuel L. Jackson) finds when he discovers Rae (Christina Ricci). The bruises don't just cover her face, but they run deep as well. Rae's a childhood victim of sexual abuse, who sublimates her shame in nymphomania. Laz is recovering from the ache of discovering his wife, Rose, has cheated on him--with his own brother.
After meeting, the two of them take on a journey of healing together that's harsh, but very real. There's a tenderness in Jackson putting a chain leash on Rae til she can gain some control over her own feelings--and come to realize what they mean. You want to cheer when Rae finally confronts her mother asking her--"Why did you let him do it? When did you know?"
And Laz as well begins to learn to move on and heal his own wounds. The differences in the two characters only highlights the fact that we all can begin again.
Jackson is one of those actors who totally loses me in his role. He can move from the assured FBI agent in "Snakes on a Plane" to an old, poor bluesman in the blink of an eye. His performance is so seamless you really don't see Jackson on the screen, but who he's portraying.
And Christina Ricci's part was amazing. For the most part, she was semi-naked on film--yet her inner character was peeled back like the petals of a rose as she began to regain her dignity and cover her exterior. This is not a role most Hollywood glam actresses would even want to try because it didn't cast her in a great light, but I think in the end she truly did triumph with her acting ability.
Very well done. I'm not sure I would want to do more than rent the film as I did. I would love to own the soundtrack, though!
From the writer/director of "Hustle & Flow" comes "Black Snake Moan," the best film I've seen in 2007. It's a unique film that features two terrific performances by Samuel L. Jackson and Christina Ricci, both delivering their best performances in years. It also features another star-making performance by Justin Timberlake (who recently impressed me in "Alpha Dog"). The film stars Ricci as Rae, that girl that lives in every city in America and is usually referred to as "the town slut." After her boyfriend Ronnie (Timberlake) leaves her for a stint in the Army, she begins getting more and more destructive; eventually, she is almost raped, beaten, and tossed out in the road. Lazarus (Jackson) has recently been left by his wife for his brother and when he finds the young girl lying in the road he takes responsibility for curing the "sickness" she has.
So, naturally, he chains her to his radiator. When she finally wakes up, she's shocked at first but eventually grows to love Lazarus...And soon, they realize that Lazarus is not just helping her but they're helping each other. This is a great film and, as a result, it's been hailed around the world as such...But it hasn't quite garnered commercial attention and this is sad. It may not sound like the kind of movie that will appeal to a massive audience, but it's a movie that I think people will find themselves enjoying. It's a fable about love, redemption, and sex...The story could've gone in many different directions, but writer/director Craig Brewer keeps it all together and takes what could've been a completely meaningless story and makes it almost life-affirming. Jackson is an actor who never fails to impress, but he's an actor who has made more bad movies than good ones. Here, I'm not going out on a limb by saying it could be his best performance (and maybe even his best film) since "Pulp Fiction." Ricci has always been an actress that's impressed me, but she hasn't done much worth noting over the past 5 years. That makes her comeback here all the more impressive. She combines all the right notes of vulnerability and sexual animosity to make this performance incredibly believable. As for Timberlake, he didn't impress me as much here as he did in "Alpha Dog" but he definitely leaves me asking where he got his acting chops? If he chokes a pretzel and ruins his vocal cords or something, acting could definitely be a fall back for him. Brewer is quickly joining the ranks of great writer/directors and his 2nd film is even stronger than his first.
on May 15, 2007
"Black Snake Moan" isn't a perfect movie. I am definitely not a fan of Justin Timerlake, as a singer or an actor. I find it weird that the makers of this film would really think Timberlake was the best person to play the part of Rae's boyfriend.
For the most part, however, I find this movie enjoyable because it is differnt from what is normally available in the theatres. I only saw the director's last film, "Hustle & Flow," after I saw "Black Snake Moan." This guy definitely has a different way of looking at things, and I hope he does not let too many Talking Heads start making creative decisions for him as he crafts his films.
For a movie with an unrealistic premise, I think that the conclusion of "Black Snake Moan" is very realistic. I feel that most people who view this will, at the very least, be entertained by a unique flick.
It's not often that a film is just as widely enjoyed and known for its soundtrack as it is for the story, acting and actors, but Black Snake Moan is one the exceptions. Plenty of reviewers here have already provided thorough summaries and opinions of the storyline so I will focus solely upon the actual quality of the transfer from Standard Def DVD to the Blu Ray format.
Keep in mind that the quality of what you see and hear also depends upon the quality of TV monitor you are using and its accompanying home theater processor and speakers. I have a pretty high end, esoteric system and am judging the Blu Ray off of that.
The video transfer is very good all around. Color grading is warm with a natural feeling and some slight color saturation. Nothing false about the coloration that I could detect. Deep blacks are everywhere and, for the age of this film, I was surprised that they were as good as they were. Contrast is excellent though some smaller details like hair and skin do not quite have the razor sharpness of films shot on video. This is not a bad thing as there is a definite filmic look to the movie. The transfer is very clean with no dropouts or aliasing and artifacts from beginning to end. The Mbps rate varies from the high teens to the low thirties. The video transfer is the star of the film....which it shouldn't be since the audio is such an important part of the movie. 5 Stars
This is why I gave the Blu Ray version of Black Snake Moan 4 stars. The film has a fantastic soundtrack and yet the producers of this Blu Ray have only used a lossy soundtrack rather than a more uncompressed lossless one. The 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack tends to be slightly uneven in the volume levels when it comes to dialogue. A few times I had to go to the remote to up the volume to catch what was being said. It's not that the dialogue is not transparent, it is, it is that the volume levels tended to go up or down. While all the dialogue is steered out of the center channel, the majority of the film's audio is contained to the front audio stage. Music is spread across the left front, center and right front of the audio stage quite nicely but there was very little use of any discreet directionality to any of the front surrounds and almost nothing to the side or rear surrounds. The sub LFE channel gets a great workout in many areas of the film, especially during the powerful music and thunderstorm scene. The audio should be the technical star of this transfer but there is no excuse for sticking a lossy audio codec to this Blu Ray. 4 stars.
Some fine extras on this disc and I can't say I have watched them all as yet. However, the documentary 'Making of' was one of the more interesting 'making of's' I have watched in some time. One of the extras explores the audio soundtrack and the musicians brought into the score which I found very interesting as well. Also included are deleted scenes and how the film is rooted in the blues, my favorite music genre.
Super happy that I finally have this film on Blu Ray. Super sad that they cheaped out by not transcoding the audio to a lossless soundtrack.
I hope this type of review covering only the quality of the transfer to Blu Ray has been of some Help to you in deciding your purchase.