Movie Review: Black Snake Moan
By David Mumpower
March 1, 2007
None of them save arguably Gill is an innately bad person and none of them save arguably R.L. is an innately good person. They're all just people, and that sort of realistic storytelling is where Brewer has the Midas touch. He's not one for heroes and demons. He credits all of his characters with their own sort of gradual growth over time. It's a methodical, precise form of cinema that isn't for everyone, but I am deeply impressed with what Brewer has done in his first two studio releases.
As for the specifics of Black Snake Moan, Ricci's performance is fearless. She spends a great deal of the movie clad only in a half-tee and panties (and chain), and she allows herself to feed off this vulnerability. Over time, the chain she wears becomes a part of personality. The symbolism of being tied to the parts of her personality that hold her down is unmistakable. The way she goes from helpless child desperate for her momma's love to brazen temptress luring men of all ages into temptation is dazzling. Saying that this is Ricci's best work since Monster is not much of a compliment given the roles she has had in the interim. Instead, I would rather note that this stands with The Opposite of Sex and Monster as the best three roles of her adult career to date.
Samuel L. Jackson is always great and everyone reading this knows it. Black Snake Moan is an unusual choice for him, though. Jackson allows himself to look every bit of his 58 years with the result being a worn down looking man ready to quit life. As Jackson's character gradually begins to embrace those parts of his personality gradually left behind over time, he summons a portion of his youth not only emotionally but also physically. The man strikes a powerful figure as he plays slide guitar at a couple of points in the movie. At these moments, he is much more the man we saw getting snakes off his motherfucking plane than the tired, betrayed farmer at the start of Black Snake Moan. Even by Jackson's lofty standards, this is a superlative performance. It is every bit as measured as he was in the aforementioned The Red Violin and my favorite effort of his, 1998's underrated The Negotiator.
Black Snake Moan is not going to be confused with Hustle & Flow in its implementation of music, even though both movies feature a musically gifted lead character. Lazarus is the polar opposite of Terrence Howard's DJay. He is almost at the end of his career and the creative process no longer holds any mystery for him. Even so, there are two key moments in the movie where music is impetus for character development. Brewer has shown a mastery of this sleek enjoining music video styling with thought provoking imagery. Particularly noteworthy is a key sequence towards the end of the movie. The acoustically enhanced room from Hustle & Flow is substituted with an earthy blues club dance sequence but the end result remains the same. Brewer once again deftly melds story and sound into a powerful, memorable scene that encapsulates the movie's point of view.
In the end, Black Snake Moan will not be for everyone. At exactly two hours long, its patient, methodical brand of storytelling will prove too much of a struggle for some. That is a shame because they will be missing out on what I may already say with confidence will prove to be one of the best releases of 2007.