I can’t say for sure yet what exactly the problem was with Black Snake Moan. I’m no movie reviewer*. My friend Dustin is, so I text messaged him right after watching it: Mr. Movie Review Guy. Quick question—is Black Snake Moan the most ridiculous shit ever or was it just me? Thanks, Wtf In NYC. He hasn’t gotten back to me, so I’m left to venture into this alone with no guidance from someone who knows what he’s talking about. Forgive me, but I feel I must say something.
I think I’ve narrowed it down to a couple of things, but as usually happens when I get writing, I’m sure a plethora of things I hadn't even thought of will come screaming their way into my thoughts as I try to get them down. So, again, forgive me if I go over two. I’ll try my best to restrain myself.
First, when the most believable thing about your movie is Justin Timberlake, don’t you think you should ask the rest of the actors to take it up a notch on the believability scale? Now I’m not going to pretend that I’ve seen JT in any other movie—& I know he has at least one—& maybe he is a very talented actor to whom I am not giving enough credit. Or maybe I still hold out too much faith that Samuel L. Jackson is going to provide moviegoers with another reason to go see him one of these times. (Christina Ricci I gave up on long ago. & for the love, girl, eat a burger or something. That can’t be healthy.) Either way, JT is meant to be a role player in this movie—a prop to give Ricci’s character something to fix while she gets fixed—& he comes across as the only thing for whom I feel any empathy.
& this isn’t completely for lack of effort on Samuel L.’s part. He’s still good at times. He can be believable as a troubled old guy just as he was believable as a badass hit man. But here’s the other problem: in this movie he’s not allowed to be enough of either. Just when you’re starting to feel something for this kind-hearted troubled old fella, he goes & pulls the badass card. But then quickly cools back down & calls a preacher. His character should have been one or the other & not tried to walk the line in between. If you ask me, he should have been allowed to run free with his badass self. Remember the scenes in Pulp Fiction where he spouts off the Bible verses before getting all “This is how it’s gonna be, M*%*#$ F*#%$#!” This movie was a platform for him to do that for 90 minutes. It’s all about redemption. He could have spouted off Bible verse after Bible verse, Fire & Brimstone this & God’s wrath that, & only in very small doses revealed his soft, heart-broken side. As it is we go back & forth—he gets that wide-eyed crazy look & tells his brother they can test whether or not he’d really take a bullet for him; he pulls a gun on his preacher friend; he tests the limits of JT’s desire to be a “man,” allowing him to hold a gun to his head. But all of these are followed too quickly by his reverting back to his soft, troubled character.
Maybe I just want an hour & a half of those bug-eyed Samuel Jackson speeches. Or maybe, this back & forth doesn’t work, because the movie does not allow it to work. I never believed these characters. Even in the realm of fantasy, an audience can suspend what they know to be “true” or “realistic” if the story & characters allow them to (in fact, that’s pretty much the definition of a movie). I am not going to think it very realistic that someone would actually chain this girl to his radiator. But, if done right, I’ll go with it. I just won’t go with it when she has sex with a twelve-year-old boy, while chained, & is found soon after by the preacher, all of whom--her, the pre-teen, & the preacher--along with SLJ, have a nice dinner of steak, corn, & biscuits that night, after which she seems to understand that a calm life where she can add cayenne pepper to the potatoes & be complimented on it by a preacher sitting next to a prepubescent boy whom she just had sex with sitting next to a heart-broken middle-aged man who has had her chained up for two days is really the way she should live her life. In other words, you know, more simpler times. And all while she’s still got the chain around her waist! Seriously, it’s like two days of this & we’re expected to believe that she comes to some sort of revelation. I don’t know about you, but no matter what decisions I might have made in life—good or bad—finding the peace & serenity to look at those decisions & decide how I might want to change my life might take a bit longer than two days if I were chained to a radiator in the backwoods of some farmer’s house after he told me I could scream all I wanted, ‘cause ain’t no one gonna hear me. But maybe that’s just me.
This movie could have been good. That’s what always frustrates me the most: when you know something could have been good & then someone goes and screws it up**. Everything was in place: A heartbreak late in life, a sex-addicted girl, a military man with severe anxiety. These are people we would be ready to feel for. But then the heartbroken guy turns out to be a Blues singer (I can’t imagine anymore cliché a job; why couldn’t he have just been a farmer?***) who falls in love again by the end of the movie (how far out are we at that point, a week? Must have been very tough to get over his wife of all those years). The sex addict girl is saved when the anxiety-ridden young man puts a smaller version of the chain she has apparently come to associate with redemption around her waist at their wedding (this thing is like one of those belly chains you see on girls in sleazy clubs. I thought we wanted Riccis’s character to be less of a slut by the end of this movie). & the anxiety-riddled guy who gets kicked out of the service because he can’t actually shoot anything but targets…well, I guess I still kind of feel for him when he gets nervous. Who would have thought a JT performance would have been wasted on this movie?****
Samuel L.—maybe you should leave any script with the words “star,” “wars,” or “snakes” off the “must-do” movie list for a while. For some reason I’m still holding out for those better days…even when I notice on your "official site" the following: “Afrosamurai (2007) (announced) ...No. 2.” Maybe you should add “Afrosamurai” to the list above.
A Concerned Fan.
*I don’t even know if movie titles are supposed to be italicized.
**See any of The Streets albums after Original Pirate Material. I know yr British & all, but could ya cool it on the dance beats?
***We wouldn’t have felt bad enough for a farmer, & the mighty guitar couldn't have saved him.
****I’ll switch to actual footnotes next time.
When You Get Bored Here, Go Here:
- David Luke Doody
- David Luke Doody is a freelance writer and editor. He is a founding editor of InDigest Magazine (www.indigestmag.com), an online literary magazine and the blog editor for Guernica Magazine (www.guernicamag.com). His writing and interviews have appeared in those magazines as well as in The Huffington Post, mnartists.org, The Minnesota Twins Yearbook, and Intentionally Urban Magazine, among others.
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