Friday, March 02, 2007

Black Snake Moan - Movie Review

Black Snake Moan (2007)

“The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.”
- Flannery O’Connor

Ah, the South! When they’re not busy enslaving over half their populace, they’re celebrating their trademark rural eccentricities. But as fans of such great Southern writers as Faulkner, Caldwell, Welty, Williams, Capote, McCullers and McCarthy – we might be more than a bit willing to venture out on a lonely dirt road headed to Crazyville, U.S.A. And once you enter into the backwoods territory found in Craig Brewer’s follow-up to last year’s excellent “Hustle & Flow”, you had better keep a few things in mind. One, this is a richly extravagant Southern fable that glorifies in the grotesque and ridiculous and two, bring along a pint of Moonshine and make sure you sip copiously throughout. It will make the experience richer, and help you swallow the heightened realism.

To wit, meet Lazarus a onetime blues singer turned man of the soil who tends his vegetables and sells them from the flatbed of his truck. He is also on the verge of a nervous breakdown upon learning his wife has run off with his brother. A notion he doesn’t take to kindly to – even if it means having to threaten either one of them with bodily harm.

Rae and Ronnie are a charming young couple, who are clearly in love. They make love with wild abandon, on the eve of Ronnie shipping out to the military. The only problem is that Ronnie suffers violent anxiety attacks that only Rae can help ease. And Rae suffers from . . . well, Rae is your garden variety slutbag whore, that will fuck anything that moves once her true love has departed.

So, once Ronnie has been sent packing to boot camp, Rae finds herself in the less than honorable position of party favor to the town locals. After a particularly ugly night of booze, pills, sex and violence she is left for dead on a dirt road. A dirt road that happens to be within spitting distance of Lazarus’ home. But being the honest man that he is, Lazarus decides to help this poor wreck of a girl never realizing the depths of her seeming depravity. Well, one thing leads to another and he ends up chaining her to his radiator to help cure her of any demons while he nurses her back to health.

“A high station in life is earned by the gallantry with which appalling experiences are survived with grace.” – Tennessee Williams

And if any of you kind readers are still with us, you might want to know that this is one terrifically entertaining flick that steams along with the same style and panache that Mister Brewer demonstrated in his last critically lauded movie. We aren’t really sure what goes on in the mind of Craig Brewer, but we find ourselves loving every minute of it! Trust us, when we heard there was a movie about a rapping pimp that was the “breakout hit” of last summer, we shied away. We were wrong then, and you would be wrong now if you ignored the esoteric charms of this potboiler.

And a potboiler it is! With no remorse. Which is exactly the tone the lead actors have adapted in eschewing their deliriously trippy roles. Samuel L. Jackson, who has seen his share of embarrassing vehicles as well as award worthy portrayals, is simply incredible as the former blues singer, turned spiritual healer. Ambling through the terrain like a slumped shadow of his former self, he zeroes in on Rae’s wounded spirit with the vigor of a Pentecostal preacher. He will help this fallen woman, under his roof with his own set of moral rules.

As Rae, the town mattress, Christina Ricci reaches new heights of orgiastic daring. This one time child star, turned Indy darling throws caution and her undergarments to the wind in her performance. Clawing the turf like a wounded animal, her buxom frame trembling with fevers, horniness and malice – she is either out to devour every man in sight or die trying. It is a ballsy turn that works gloriously when the tone is just right. The only problem may be with the audience reaction at the onset, where we are not quite sure how wild this film will get. (Thankfully, the pieces fall into place by the time of the very satisfying ending.)

As Ronnie, Justin Timberlake gets one step closer to proving that he is not just wasting everybody’s time in his newfound acting career. Unlike Christina Ricci, we did have our doubts to his acting skills when viewing his first attempts to dramatize his physically taxing nervous disorder. (The quivering hands gripping the toilet bowl were a tad too “Acting 101” for our taste.) But by the time Ronnie has returned in search of his nympho Juliet, he was either given better direction or had eased into his role as the traumatized manchild – that he managed some very effective scenes when they mattered most.

The lead trio is ably supported by the extremely talented S. Epatha Merkerson as Lazarus’ overtly friendly pharmacist. Michael Raymond-James as Ronnie’s best friend and Rae’s secret nemesis. John Cothran as the Reverend R.L., who attempts to bring some order into the chaos at hand. And in the role of . . . could that be? No . . . tell us it ain’t so! It IS!!!! In the role of Rae’s momma, a woman whose cruelty or tolerance for cruelty can only be guessed at is Kim Richards, former child acting diva and real life aunt to those celebutard siblings! We admit it. We plotzed.

Which is certainly a viable option for those in attendance. “Black Snake Moan” is the kind of movie that audiences either get in step with, or run from the theatre in a desperate bid for freedom. Which in this case is particularly ironic, we wish we could strap in every member and tie them to their seat with a forty foot chain. It would make for some theatrical experience!

“The theme is the theme of humiliation, which is the square root of sin, as opposed to the freedom from humiliation, and love, which is the square root of wonderful.”
- Carson McCullers

Black Snake Moan” deserves to be seen for its unforgettable imagery, fabulously eccentric themes and powerhouse performances. With a homegrown auteur like Craig Brewer in charge of this hoedown, we know we are in very capable hands of a man who is capable of pulling the poetry out of the most outlandish scenario. The movies were created from a melding of magic and realism, to watch dreamy landscapes dance in front of our unbelieving eyes. We knew that “Black Snake Moan” was well worth our time and money, when we had reached Lazarus’ own reawakening as he returns to his blues roots to recapture some of his faded glory. It was a scene straight out of movie making heaven. A blend of music, emotion, color, light and shadow that sold us completely on the power of our own disbelief. Go ahead, do yourselves a favor and sample this wickedly delightful exploration of some very lost souls – you’ll be surprised how enjoyable the journey can be. Bless you all!

Written and Directed by Craig Brewer

Samuel L. Jackson as Lazarus
Christina Ricci as Rae
Justin Timberlake as Ronnie
S. Epatha Merkerson as Angela
John Cothran Jr. as Reverend R.L.
David Banner as Tehronne
Michael Raymond-James as Gill
Adriane Lenox as Rose Woods
Kim Richards as Sandy
Neimus K. Williams as Lincoln
Leonard L. Thomas as Deke Woods
Ruby Wilson as Mayella
Claude Phillips as Bojo
Amy Lavere as Jesse
Clare Grant as Kell
Jeff Pope as Batson

Cinematography by Amelia Vincent
Film Editing by Billy Fox
Original Music by Scott Bomar
Production Design by Keith Brian Burns
Art Direction by Liba Daniels
Set Decoration by Meg Everist



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