blacksnakemoan.jpg(2007, Directed by Craig Brewer, 115 minutes, U.S.)
I can’t remember the last time a movie poster stopped me dead in my tracks. Laid out to look like the cover of a Marvel comic book, here’s Samuel L. Jackson looking like a Southern sharecropper, holding a chain that has Christina Ricci dressed up like Daisy Duke attached at the end. What is this, a cross-racial Last Tango, a sexually sadistic Saw? Is the chain merely metaphorical? Nope, nope and nope. The poster is unambiguous truth in advertising: Black Snake Moan actually is about impoverished, guitar-playing farmer Jackson keeping pathological nymphomaniac Ricci chained up — half-naked — in his house. But far from beating Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez with a big-budget grindhouse homage, Hustle and Flow director Craig Brewer has made the most socially responsible film that could possibly be made about chaining a woman up like a junkyard dog. Thankfully, there’s plenty of entertainment to be had in watching even a moderately provocative drama about shackling up young hotties. Ricci plays Rae, a young woman whose fragile self-esteem leads her to fornicate with abandon when her boyfriend Ronnie (a perfectly adequate Justin Timberlake) gets called up to Iraq. After a night of drugging and humping, Rae is beaten up by Ronnie’s best friend and left half-naked on the dirt road in front of blues wizard and farmer Lazarus (Jackson). Lazarus’ wicked old lady has just left him for his little brother, so when he discovers Rae’s wild ways he decides to keep her on a length of chain in his run-down little place until, Bible in hand, he can cure her of her sinful affliction. Like Brewer’s Hustle, Black Snake Moan exhibits such natural drama and impeccable craft that you find yourself rooting for characters and accepting situations that might otherwise make you queasy. No, I don’t believe pimps are misunderstood sweethearts, no I don’t believe men should chain up women and interrogate them about their sexual lives, but Brewer’s persuasive dialogue and his gifts as a storyteller dragged me along, no chain needed. Cinematographer Amy Vincent shoots the vivid locations with glowing earth tones and flashes of color that give the film a heightened reality, and makes rural Tennessee seem like a place where freshly-made Biblical-style parables unfold every day. Brewer has worked extensively as a playwright, and beneath its burnished luster, Black Snake Moan could stand sturdily on the stage, its revelations unfolding at a steady clip. It’s only on the way home that the conservative nature of the piece begins to stick in my craw. Going in with the poster’s image in my head, it seemed like anything could happen; instead it appears a black man can only keep a white woman chained in his house if he keeps his distance and quotes the Bible all day. Like that film where the angelic Will Smith makes it his life’s mission to soothe Matt Damon’s demons and cure his golf swing, Jackson’s Lazarus is ultimately willing to ignore his libido and leave his crops rotting in the field in order to selflessly tend to the wounded psyche of a poor, trashy white girl. As such, his black snake has good reason to moan.

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