Black Snake Moan
Writer/director Craig Brewer does here for the blues what he did for hip hop in sleeper hit Hustle & Flow. In that film Brewer used the synoptic imagery contained in gangster rap to show the reformation of a pimp through music. Here he uses that most depressing of musical genres to pull together a story that is so far out and forlorn that the plot synopsis sounds like it was made up by a man coming down from a particularly nasty batch of heroin.
Christina Ricci has ditched her hourglass figure, gone on a crash diet and emerged as a stick insect, to star as Rae, a girl who jumps from the bed of her Iraq bound military boyfriend (Justin Timberlake) into that of her drug dealer (David Banner) and then heads off for a drunken spree. Outside of Fresher’s Week, benders like this just ain’t no good for the constitution. Salvation comes in the unlikely form of an old man named Lazarus (Samuel L Jackson) who takes it upon himself to save Rae.
Brewer uses these plot machinations to investigate ideas of race, religion and redemption in a way that for most of the film’s running time is unusually riveting. Ricci is a revelation here and Jackson does the path of the righteous man better than any other actor working today. It’s when Brewer decides to slow the action down and give Lazarus a guitar, three chords and the truth that the preposterous narrative begins to break down. The story never surprises, merely rambles from one painful juncture to the next. Of course, the point being made by Brewer is that the nature of the blues - accepting the woes of life - is central to the human condition. By avoiding the clichés of say Walter Hill’s blues odyssey Crossroads, Brewer is refusing to pander to mainstream audiences. Fans of the blues will find much to admire, while others may despair, but such divisiveness may just be the intention of this contrivance of a film.