March 7, 2007 -- “Black Snake Moan” is a movie about the blues. It focuses on people in pain and shows how the blues can help them in their time of need. Even though this film borders on hard porn, it is also about how Christianity can help heal people and how forgiveness can heal relationships. Of course this film also has a number of scenes featuring a scantily-clad woman being held captive in a house by use of a big chain. This is a strange, politically incorrect and controversial film. It defies all expectations.
Samuel L. Jackson (“Snakes on a Plane”) stars as Lazarus, a bitter man whose wife has just left him. His wife was stolen away by his own brother. Living in a rural part of a small backwater southern town, Lazarus one day spots a woman lying in a gravel road. She has been badly beaten, but is still alive. He takes her in and while she is recovering at his house, Larzarus makes discrete inquiries around town. Who is this woman? She is Rae (Christina Ricci of “Monster”), a young woman who has been acting like a drunken nymphomaniac. Her health is very poor and she might have died if Lazarus had not rescued her. Rae's boyfriend, Ronnie (Justin Timberlake of “Alpha Dog”) has left town.
Lazarus comes to believe it is his God-given duty to save Rae from her wicked ways. After she wanders off a couple of times, Lazarus fixes a chain around her waist and attaches the other end to a radiator. When Rae finally comes out of her drug-induced stupor, she is angry at being tied up. Lazarus employs some tough, common sense therapy to Rae, but it is the blues that finally get through to her. Lazarus is a powerful blues musician who plays as much to soothe his own tortured soul as to help Rae. Eventually a local preacher, the Reverand R.L. (John Cothran Jr.) finds out about Rae and offers some of his own common sense counseling to the troubled young woman.
There is a tense scene in the movie when a newly-reformed Rae confronts her mother about her acquiescing to the sexual abuse Rae suffered as a child. More complications arise when Rae's boyfriend returns to town and confronts both Rae and Lazarus. Once again, the Reverand R.L. has to try to smooth things over. Somehow, Rae and Lazarus connect and they heal each other. Lazarus also makes a connection with someone else, Angela (S. Epatha Merkerson) a local woman who has had her eye on Lazarus for some time.
This is an amusing, intense, sexually charged drama that works because these consumate actors manage to sell this sometimes silly story. It works in spite of some major plot holes. One of the problems of this story is that Lazarus would surely be jailed for kidnapping or imprisonment for having a woman held captive in his house. Another plot hole has to do with Ronnie's psychological problems, which aren't really explored in the film. He comes out looking like a small piece of a character. What really works well in the film is the acting and the music. Inspired by legendary blues performer R.L. Burnside, the blues music has a lot of power in the film. One of the songs that Lazarus performs in the movie is “Alice Mae,” written by Burnside, and Burnside's grandson, Cedric Burnside, also appears in the film as a musician. The blues are the heart of this movie. Love, religion and the blues help to heal the film's broken characters. This film rates a B.
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