Black Snake Moan (2006)

Dir. Craig Brewer
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Christina Ricci, etc.

I think Penny, Mitchell, Chris, Kevin, Tony and John would find this worth watching, even though they might rate the score with a similar, or even lower, score. On the other hand, a higher rating would not surprise me much either. Check out the next section to see if you want to take a chance on this film (although I do reveal some of the elements that I liked discovering as the film unfolded.) As for the other idiots, there are things that other idiots may find interesting, but not enough for me to recommend it to them.

I’ll say one thing about this film: it’s diffent. While the film is not entirely successful, I really liked what the filmmakers were going for. You know how Tarantino likes to give post-modern updates to B-movies? Well, this is Craig Brewer’s spin on those “gator bait” movies. I don’t know if “gator bait” is the right term, but I remember seeing a scantily clad female hillbilly on the cover of a film called, Gator Bait. I never saw the film, but I could guess what it was like. This film uses the trappings of what one would expect in that film to make a film about redemption and healing via the blues and spirituality (Christianity).

Ronnie (Timberlake) has just been deployed to Iraq, leaving behind his girlfriend Rae (Ricci). Rae loves Ronnie, but has a powerful need for sex and seeks other men to satisfy that craving. Lazarus (Jackson) is a former blues musician whose wife has left him for his brother. The film revolves around Lazarus helping Rae—through the blues and pastor–and in the process helping both of them.

The originality of the film surprised and delighted me. I can’t think of a film that combined semi-porn, b-movie elements—e.g. the situation of a man chaining a scantily clad horny girl to a radiator in his secluded cabin—with Christianity and the blues to ultimately tell a story about redemption and healing. For a mainstream film, that’s pretty wild. (It played at Dole Cannery for a while.) The fact that the film wasn’t entirely successful wasn’t surprising. (It would have been a miracle if it did work!) I want to talk about some of those reasons.

Casting was probably the most critical decision in this film, especially for the roles of Rae and Lazarus. Chemistry between these two characters was essential, and in my opinion it was lacking. Without this chemistry, the idea that Rae could eventually develop trusting and caring—and non-sexual—relationship with Lazarus wouldn’t be believable—and therefore unsatisfying. The actor cast in the role of Lazarus would also have to be a good blues singer/musician, and, again, imo, Jackson was lacking. He could sing OK (he clearly couldn’t play guitar, but that was a minor problem), but not good enough to evoke powerful emotions. That was key, since he and Rae were characters who were hurting. Great music would have made the movie a lot better and the blues performances were not entirely convincing. In addition to weak chemistry, I also felt the acting was somehow lacking—or perhaps the blame goes to the direction or the dialogue. Whatever the source of the problem, the characters’ pathos was not as strong as I felt it should have been; they never hit me on a gut level. If the chemistry and acting and music were good, this would have been a terrific movie.

I also thought some of the ideas were just a little too unbelievable, and I’m mainly thinking about this idea of chaining Rae to the radiator. They needed to do something to make that more credible.

This film really had a terrific concept, but my sense is that the filmmakers (probably the director and writer) weren’t talented enough to pull it off.

One things I liked was R.L. and the portrayal of Christianity in the film. It’s one of the few Hollywood films that actually has a positive portrayal of Christianity and a Christian pastor.

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