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Movie Review: Black Snake Moan

Black Snake Moan
Written and directed by Craig Brewer
Paramount Vantage

When I look at the premise for Black Snake Moan, I can’t help but think that this is the type of thing we as a society would like to do to Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan.  Screw that Hollywood rehab stuff and put the fear of God into these chicks, chain them down so they can’t whittle away all of their virtue.  Of course, it’s a horrendous double standard.  We’d never see a movie like this with the roles reversed.

Craig Brewer brought us Hustle & Flow a couple of years back, a movie I thought was good until a wrong-turn of a third act.  Still, it was promising.  And with Brewer making a B-movie that echoes something that looks like one of Quentin Tarantino’s favorites, the out-there premise was intriguing.  His new film is equal parts success and failure.

Rae (Christina Ricci) has just seen her boyfriend Ronnie (Justin Timberlake) go off to Iraq, and the emotional baggage comes rip-roaring through as she becomes a boozing ho-bag in a small Tennessee town.  One night, she’s beaten and left on the side of the road next to a farm where Lazarus (Samuel L. Jackson) finds her and takes her in to restore her to health.

Lazarus has his own problems.  He’s just been left by his wife by his younger brother, and he’s trying to pick up his own pieces.  But Rae represents a second chance, a call from God, to do something useful with his life.  When the nearly comatose Rae starts waking up and wandering around the farm in a haze, Lazarus chains her to a radiator and explains later that he wants to “cure” her.

Brewer’s theme of music helping heal all wounds is present here, although this bogs down the film a bit.  So does the return of Rae’s boyfriend Ronnie (he’s got psychological problems of his own).  Justin Timberlake is at the stage of his acting career where we forgive some of his affectations, and under that kind of focus he does well, but he’s not great, either.  And even though it’s easy to suspend disbelief about a woman chained in a man’s house in order to learn a lesson, there are still some strains in credibility here and there.

Overall, there’s enough to recommend this film.  There are more good scenes than bad, and the overall message is hopeful.  It could have degraded into a collision of bad choices.  The film is a bit conflicted, but in this case it’s a good thing.  This might be one of those films you’re just going to have to have a feeling about before you buy a ticket.  If it looks like something for you, you’ll probably end up liking it, and so goes for the opposite.

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