Running Time: 116 mins
Rated: Rated MA15+ (strong themes, strong sexual references and sex scenes, strong violence, strong coarse language).
The poster for Black Snake Moan is lurid. It has a scantily clad Christina Ricci on the ground with Samuel L. Jackson standing, dominating, above her. He holds a chain which serves as a leash. One is tempted to interpret the title with some lewd meanings.
Which is a lesson in not judging books by covers or films by posters. Yes, Christina Ricci does look like this. At one stage she is chained. And Samuel L. Jackson dominates her. That still gives a false impression of the film.
Christina Ricci plays Rae, a young poor trash girl in Americas south. Abused by her father and not protected by her mother, she has developed a nymphomaniac psychological and physical condition. Her hope is in her boyfriend, Ronnie (Justin Timberlake) who himself has phobia problems and is going off for national service. In the meantime, Lazarus (Samuel L. Jackson), an old-time musician has given up his playing and is miserable and violent because his wife has been carrying on with his brother and is now walking out on him.
One doesn't get a very hopeful picture of human nature as the film opens - the town also has some drug pushers and young sports players whose vision of life is crass.
When Lazarus finds an unconscious Rae on the road, he takes her in. What happens is rehabilitation, both for Rae and for Lazarus. This, then, is a moral and sometimes moralising film, showing that one should believe in, have hope in, the goodness of human nature and exercise some charity which must lead to positive results.
There are some fine characters as well. Lazarus has a friend, the Reverend R.L. (John Cothron Jr), who is strong in his advice and religious perspective, a man who supports Lazarus and is able to listen to Rae and Ronnie. S. Epartha Merkerson is a storekeeper who brings a sense of decency and kindness to the film.
Black Snake Moan is not the kind of film that many audiences may want to sit through. For those who do, and who can take this sometimes depressing picture of struggling human beings, it leads somewhere hopeful beyond the final credits.
Paramount August 2 2007
Fr Peter Malone MSC directs the film desk of SIGNIS: the World Association of Catholic Communicators, and is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting