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BLACK SNAKE MOAN (article first published : 2007-08-19)

Writer-director Craig Brewer, who was behind the Oscar-nominated 2005 rap movie Hustle and Flow, follows that up with the audacious new Black Snake Moan, a sweaty and potentially controversial Southern melodrama inspired by the pulpy sexploitation B-graders of the 70s.

A tale of sin and salvation, of hard knock life and tough love, it centres on two tortured souls whose lives cross and become entangled when both are at a particularly low point in life.

Samuel L Jackson is Lazarus, an ageing and very religious grey-bearded former blues musician left deeply hurt to return alone to his vegetable growing when his wife cheats on him with his brother. He comes across Rae, played by a newly toned Christina Ricci, at the side of a road. Scantily dressed, she is beaten, bruised and broken, having been left for dead after a frenzied period of promiscuity and drug abuse following the departure of her boyfriend Ronnie (Justin Timberlake) to join the war in Iraq.

Lazarus takes her home, treats her wounds and learns that Rae is a notorious nymphomaniac with a horrible past stemming from abuse. She has become a woman happy to spread her legs for anyone who shows her attention.

It becomes Lazarus’s mission to right this wrong, heal Rae’s deep wounds – but he goes to extremes. He uses a large-link chain to chain the blonde, clad only in panties and dishevelled T-shirt, to his radiator. This ensures that she stays to listen to his life lessons and religious rantings, to accept, evaluate and change the error of her ways.

Against an evocative aural mix of gospel, blues and rock, the story unfolds of two lost souls on a mission to better themselves, even though things do not go quite as planned.

Ricci, looking super-slim, gives a brave and provocative performance, albeit with an iffy Southern accent; while Jackson, who performs his own blues tunes, is also on fine form. Even boyish pop icon Timberlake gets by well enough.

It is an engaging and intriguing film, a refreshing break from the mainstream, which serves some interesting statements about gender and race.

The film bravely toys with taboos and offers quirks of humour and some stylish cinematography, a particularly impressive scene involving Lazarus playing his guitar during a thunderstorm, a saucer-eyed Rae clinging in terror to his leg.

Ultimately, however, Black Snake Moan disappoints by floundering under the weight of its pretensions, while plotting and performances sometimes veer dangerously close to becoming laughably over the top.




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