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Black Snake Moan (7/10)

by Tony Medley

The trailer does a disservice to this movie. The trailer, showing Rae (Christina Ricci), a beautiful young blond, chained by Lazarus (Samuel L. Jackson), looks more like a gothic horror movie than a love story, which is what it is.

With a basis in blues music, after Rae’s boyfriend, Ronnie (Justin Timberlake), leaves her to go back to his tour of duty in the armed forces, Rae drowns her sorrows by reverting to her loose sexual mores and gets more and more in the dumps. Finally, she is beaten up and dumped on the highway where the elderly black man, Lazarus, finds her. Lazarus is equally beaten up emotionally as his wife has just dumped him for his best friend.

The film starts with vintage footage of 1930s blues legend Son House, who says, “There’s only one kind of blues…that consists between male and female.” The title refers to a song written by Blind Lemon Jefferson, who wrote a song about going blind, entitled, “Black Snake Moan,” from a line in the song about “black snakes crawling over me,” referring to his impending blindness. Craig Brewer, who wrote and directed, said, “It proved the perfect metaphor for a pivotal scene in the film…where Lazarus and Rae are confronting their darkest secrets.” Actually, this scene was the only one in the film where I lost connection with the movie. It was melodramatic and completely lost me because it seemed to lack the substance that the drama was trying to convey. And the song isn’t very good.

But for those few moments, however, this was a film that grabbed me from the outset and kept hold of me throughout. Lots of people might stay away from this because of the ill-advised promotion and an equally ill-advised title. Too bad, because it is an entertaining, feel-good movie, highlighted by a fine performance by Jackson, who learned to play the guitar for the movie and also does his own singing. As fine as Jackson is, however, Ricci is spectacular as the highly damaged woman of easy virtue.