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Paramount Home Video presents
"God seen fit to put you in my path and I aim to cure you of your wickedness."
DVD ReviewCraig Brewer's followup to Hustle & Flow shifts his emphasis from rap music to the blues, using the musical form as both a commentary on the plot and as part of the story itself. Mingling lust, disappointment, fear and pain, the blues are the perfect counterpoint to the more-than-slightly off-kilter proceedings of Black Snake Moan.
Rae Doole (Christina Ricci) is a nymphomaniac in rural Mississippi, unable to handle her National Guardsman boyfriend Ronnie (Justin Timberlake) leaving for a tour of duty in Iraq. He's barely gone before she is having sex with any comer, descending into an abyss of drugs and self-loathing. She winds up comatose and beaten near the home of Lazarus Redd (Samuel L. Jackson), a musician turned farmer who has just been abandoned by his wife. At first unsure what to do, Lazarus finally decides to take her in and, guided by his Bible, cure her of her wickedness...by chaining her to his radiator. But how long can he keep her a secret, especially after Ronnie comes back home unexpectedly?
Although Paramount marketed this picture as something like Mandingo 2007, it doesn't play that way at all. As weird as the central conceit may be, the relationship between Lazarus and Rae is strictly platonic. Sexuality is, however, pervasive, especially in the earlier portions of the movie as Rae attempts to deal with her obsessions, and she's barely clad through the vast majority of the movie. But despite the controversy of an older black man keeping a young white woman chained up in his house, there's a certain sweetness to Lazarus' religious mania. In lesser hands, it wouldn't work at all, but Jackson gives a convincing performance, visibly doubting himself even as he asserts how certain he is about what it is that he has to do. Ricci is great as always, giving Rae a vivid and spirited personification, and even Timberlake manages to create a sympathetic character, who can't deal with the expectations of his life.
The unfortunate part of the story is that it depends in numerous respects on ten-cent Dr. Phil pop psychology, emphasizing the need for connection through religion, family and relationships, metaphorically represented by Rae's chain. But the resolution to Rae's situation is far too pat for what's set up, and the dimestore explanation of childhood abuse for nymphomania is more than a little ridiculous. It's as if Brewer got so caught up in his audaciousness that he didn't bother to get his fable to make a lot of sense. Lazarus' preacher friend R.L. (John Cothran) doesn't seem particularly shocked that he has a young woman, obviously bloodied, chained up, nor does he seem terribly interested in what's likely to happen to either of them as a result. Even if going to the authorities weren't an option for racial reasons, he seems just far too blasé about the situation. There are also some failures of clarity; what looked to me like visions of Timberlake coming back to her to attack her are revealed in the extras as actually flashbacks to abuse, but they're so vague the message went right past me.
What goes a long ways toward rescuing the picture is the wonderful soundtrack, featuring plenty of great blues musicians such as Charlie Musselwhite. Jackson learned to play guitar for the role, turning in some credible licks (even if they are finger-synched). The music helps to keep the tone one of anguish, loss and pain, suffused with a determination to forge ahead. Even paying little attention to anything else, the music makes the picture worth a spin.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B
Image Transfer Review: The AVC coding is as usual a bit on the soft side and occasionally lacking in fine detail. However, textures, especially of clothing, come across pretty well. Color is quite robust, and black levels are rock solid. Camera pans feel rather unstable at times, with detail vanishing in a haze.
Image Transfer Grade: B-
Audio Transfer Review: The 5.1 DD+ track gets the job done without any serious flashiness or surround activity. The music comes across cleanly and with excellent range, and dialogue is unsurprisingly clear, without hiss or noise.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
5 Deleted Scenes
1 Feature/Episode commentary by writer/director Craig Brewer
Extras Grade: A-
Final CommentsA weird concept given a striking realization, Black Snake Moan hits on a number of levels, careening along powered by its lead performances and a killer soundtrack. There are plenty of extras, and the transfer is decent.
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