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Black Snake Moan

Generally, I only end up commenting on movies that I really enjoy. Sometimes though, it's fun to analyze what makes a less-than-stellar film ineffective. Black Snake Moan is one such movie that just didn't work for me. I really wanted to like it. It had many things going for it that should have made it a personal favorite: Samuel L. Jackson, a blues music motif, and a redemptive theme. Yet none of those elements were able to redeem this film's poor execution.

Black Snake Moan takes place in a small-town farming community. Christina Ricci plays Ray, a young woman afflicted with severe nymphomania that causes her to cheat on her boyfriend and be used by men all over town. Ray's boyfriend, Ronnie, played surprisingly well by Justin Timberlake, carries his own affliction: clinical anxiety. While he is away on duty for the National Guard, Ray goes on a drug and sex binge, ending up scantilly-clad and beaten within an inch of her life on the side of road. She is found by a local farmer and blues musician, Lazarus, played by Sammy J. He takes her in to help heal her physical wounds and eventually makes it his mission to cure her of her psychological sickness as well.

That set-up sounds pretty good, doesn't it? The concept seems to provide ample opportunity for interesting relationships to develop and grow: a strong paternal relationship between Sammy J. and Ray as well as a repaired relationship between Ray and her boyfriend, highlighted by open, mutual support for each other's psychological challenges. In fact, the movie attempts to develop those exact relationships, but unfortunately, it comes off forced and off-center, rather than natural and convincing. I can only blame this on the direction (and perhaps partially on the writing), because the performances in the film are all pretty strong.

The major flaw of the film, for me, was that the character development was far too weak. I never felt especially connected to any of the characters and was never drawn into the supposed relationships between them. In a film that deals with heavy issues such as sexual abuse, anxiety, and infidelity, character development and emotional involvement of the audience are essential. While I was impacted by a couple of well-crafted scenes, the film as a whole lacked a strong emotional arc and simply fell flat. The heavily-marketed scenario of a barely-clothed white girl chained to an older black man's radiator, came off as a cheap gimmick, rather than a genuine, plot-advancing element. The use of the blues in the film also seemed tacked on, when it could have had a much more meaningful juxtaposition against the lives of the main characters.

I applaud the filmmakers for attempting to tell a story of restoration and grace, but many films have done so much more convincingly than Black Snake Moan. This one will just frustrate you with its unrealized potential and leave you with a case of the bad film blues.

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