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TOP 100 MOVIES in 2006!
Directed by Craig Brewer
Starring: Samuel L Jackson, Christina Ricci, Justin Timberlake
Review by Federica Vettor
In small town Mississippi, Lazarus (Samuel L. Jackson) is an honest and religious Bluesman struggling with the lack of purpose and loneliness in his life after being left by his beloved wife. When he finds Rae (Christina Ricci), an abused girl suffering from nymphomaniac compulsions, beaten up and lying unconscious by the side of the street, he believes he must heal her from her sinful addiction. After chaining her in an attempt to control her drive, Lazarus dedicates himself to taking care of her, and the two slowly open their broken hearts to one another, growing a strong bond. When Rae’s boyfriend Ronnie (Justin Timberlake) unexpectedly returns from his army assignment, he misinterprets the relationship between Rae and Lazarus, and the fragile situation threatens to dangerously spin out of control.
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“Black Snake Moan” is a strong follow-up to Craig Brewer’s acclaimed “Hustle & Flow”. The film seduces its viewers into a very different, but similarly musical world. In fact, music seems to be a strong inspiration to this young director who, by immersing “Black Snake Moan” into the Blues, adds an exquisitely melancholic texture to its storyline. But more on this later.The plot is maintained relatively simple, to further enhance the drama and originality of the subject matter itself. Craig Brewer gives his viewers the time to adjust to the unusual dynamics that they are witnessing, not allowing them to jump to judgmental conclusions. The drama unfolds before our eyes slowly and smoothly, gaining intensity as the characters are developed, and as their interactions attain deeper meanings.
The power of the film is without a doubt carried by the power of its performances. Samuel L. Jackson delivers the moving interpretation of a broken man with such intensity, that he makes us – once again – wonder why on earth he takes on so many roles that are unworthy of his talent. Justin Timberlake, while still being a bit shaky on his acting feet, sensitively instills the character of Ronnie with freshness and vulnerability, and thereby confirms his high potential.
The supporting roles are all well developed, consistent and well cast, building a harmonious background ensemble. But it’s Christina Ricci who absolutely steals the show. Her brave rendition of Rae is powerful, uncompromising, passionate and simply breathtaking. She equally focuses on Rae’s repulsive outrageousness and on her endearing vulnerability, thereby aptly exploring the complexity of this fascinating character, and allowing the audience to understand her, and empathise with her situation. It is not an easy role Christina Ricci takes on here, stripping down to her underwear for most of the film, and going all the way to portray the tender roughness of a girl completely lost, compelled to bare and sacrifice all – her body as well as her heart and soul. But Christina Ricci takes this challenge on full-frontal, and she successfully makes Rae’s pain and shy hope her very own. After “Monster”, “Black Snake Moan” makes us literally beg Christina Ricci to concentrate her career on drama, sidestepping “lighter” endeavours that do not seem to be pushing her to the limits of her talent.
The impressive performances are supported by good dialogues, sensitive and confident direction and solid, low-key but atmospheric cinematography; good art direction and smooth editing round things up.
But, as already mentioned, it’s the music, including some noteworthy performances by the lead actors themselves, that takes “Black Snake Moan” to another level. It is tender and powerful. It expresses the pain of the characters as well as their hopes. It bridges differences, frees spirits and heals souls. And it is an absolutely integral part of the subtle catharsis we experience.
On a less enthusiastic note, there are definitely some aspects of “Black Snake Moan” that unfortunately remain below the overall standard of the film. Most prominently, Rae’s nymphomaniac fits seem unrealistic and over-the-top, sometimes almost caricaturesque, and threaten to steal away the dramatic potential of decisive scenes. Also, the ending comes across as rushed and un-finished, and the viewer is left wanting something decisively stronger, a bolder stand, as well as more depth. What a shame.
Nevertheless, “Black Snake Moan” remains an original and remarkable filmic achievement that can be highly recommended, and is worth watching for its performances alone. We shall be watching this space in great anticipation of Craig Brewer’s next inspiration.