Wednesday, March 07, 2007

"Black Snake Moan"

Watching this film may be the closest you'll ever come to seeing what the blues actually looks like. It's dirty, and it's stinky, but most of all, it's something that comes from within a person's soul.
- Frank Wilkins, Real Talk Movie Revies
If you're only going to see one movie featuring Sam Jackson with a reptilian title...actually, I neither want to finish the joke, nor google to see how many people have already beaten me to it.

BUT, I actually quite liked "BSM." Considering that it is the sophomore effort from Craig Brewer of "Hustle & Flow" fame, and it features Samuel L. Jackson, the Dirty-South blues, and Sam Jackson unabashedly channeling the late, exceedingly great R.L. Burnside (the film is dedicated to Burnside), my operative term for this one was "Wheelhouse" from the moment I heard about it.

And then I heard a little about the plot. What the hell is Christina Ricci doing in here? And then I saw the first preview last fall sometime (shown prior to Jackass 2, no less. A ringing endorsement for film quality.) 'Yes' I thought, 'Sam, why do you got her chained?' I became skeptical as to how this could possibly work. All my favorite feminists were predictably appalled.

And in truth, it doesn't work. But, Brewer knows that the whole premise is instantly risible. Instead of trying to make it believable, he ratchets the whole thing up to eleven so you're never really sure if he's serious or not. And many of the individual pieces are just right. The southern-fried atmospherics are perfect - watching in a theater carved out of the frozen tundra, it still felt sweaty and insect-filled. Jackson plays the perfect combo of broken-down and explosive-tempered - I'd have no problem seeing him whip out an actual Ass Pocket of Whiskey, and take a slug, as he drives his tractor.

And the music...first, see the quoted lead. Second, much like "Hustle & Flow" (and "8 Mile" as well), the palpable love, reverence even, that the film has for the redemptive power of the music is what makes the whole thing go. Third, the juke-joint scene near the end should (but obviously won't) retire the 'sweaty dance-club' genre of music videos. As Kenny the Jet would say "it's over, ladies and gentleman."

Somethings work less well. S. Epatha Merkeson has the only really thankless role in the piece. Ricci's performance is good. The problem is, like with Halle Berry in "Monster's Ball", her physical attractiveness is almost a distraction. If the movie was played completely straight, this would be a fatal flaw, but as a quasi-exploitation flick, Brewer just about gets away with it. Given the parallels between Jackson and Ricci's relationship here and that of DJay and Nola in "Hustle & Flow" one is almost forced to wonder about aspects of Brewer's personal history - "H&F" was unabashedly autobiographical, whereas BSM almost has to be more allegorical. But still, that this aspect was so similar in both it does make one think.

In the end, the movie adds up to something slightly less than the sum of its parts, certain dramatic shifts seem overly, well, dramatic, and the conclusion is all too neat. After a fully unique first 2/3rds, Brewer loses the courage that got him to that point.

As a final note, like it or not, 'Black Snake Moan' is unique. Given the excessively homogenized, focus-tested mess that is major American film-making today, I'm all for that. The best possible outcome is that someone will see the film as overtly misogynist and/or racist and make their own, similarly novel, movie almost as a response. I'm not holding my breath, however.


Tim said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tim said...

Thank's, Pooh