Get be­hind me, Satan

BLACK SNAKE MOAN Di­rected by Craig Brewer. Star­ring Samuel L Jack­son, Christina Ricci, Justin Tim­ber­lake 16 cert Cineworld/ IMC Dún Laoghaire/ Movies@Dun­drum/Screen/Vue, Dublin, 115 min

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Filmreviews - DON­ALD CLARKE

WOKE up this morn­ing, strange film in my head/Sam Jack­son got Christina Ricci all chained up to his bed.

Mr Jack­son ac­tu­ally at­taches the saucer-eyed fire­cracker to his ra­di­a­tor in this pro­foundly puz­zling en­ter­tain­ment, but, rhyme be­ing as much a part of the blues as mis­ery, we will ask you to grant us a lit­tle lee­way. Craig Brewer, di­rec­tor of the du­bi­ous Hus­tle & Flow, has – I can only guess – set out to bring the raw sex­u­al­ity and las­civ­i­ous melo­drama of the blues to main­stream cin­ema.

To some ex­tent he suc­ceeds. But, un­til church and tra­di­tional moral­ity even­tu­ally as­sert them­selves, the film stinks as much of AC/DC and Whites­nake as it does of Robert John­son or Howl­ing Wolf. In­deed, its al­ready no­to­ri­ous poster (the chained Ricci curls around Jack­son’s leg) car­ries sev­eral re­minders of the cover of Spinal Tap’s Smell the Glove. What is go­ing on?

Black Snake Moan be­gins with Ricci, all cut-off shorts and mi­cro­scopic T-shirt, wav­ing good­bye to her boyfriend (the con­sis­tently im­pres­sive Justin Tim­ber­lake) as he heads off with his Na­tional Guard troop to lose some for­eign war. Be­fore the bus has reached the free­way, Ricci has fallen to her knees in a parox­ysm of sex­ual de­sire.

Af­ter sev­eral ill-ad­vised car­nal en­coun­ters, more than a few in­ges­tions of pro­scribed chem­i­cals and at least one sav­age beat­ing, the mis­guided young wo­man is dumped on a dusty track a short dis­tance from Mr Jack­son’s shack. He, it tran­spires, was once a blues mu­si­cian and, hav­ing just seen his wife run off with his brother, is not kindly dis­posed to­wards man­i­fes­ta­tions of fe­male de­sire. Out comes the chain. Out comes the Bi­ble. A heal­ing time has be­gun.

Black Snake Moan is, it must be said, a ter­rif­i­cally well-made pic­ture. The scarier parts of rural Ten­nessee are so evoca­tively sum­moned up you ex­pect flies to es­cape the screen, and the skil­ful in­te­gra­tion of apoca­lyp­tic blues songs both drives and re­flects the ac­tion very ef­fec­tively. But it re­mains a dis­tinctly un­savoury piece of work.

Re­vers­ing other, ugly stereo­types con­cern­ing the sex­ual po­tency of black men, this anti- Mandingo, by al­low­ing Ricci’s char­ac­ter to suf­fer from de­sire as Linda Blair suf­fered from pos­ses­sion in The Ex­or­cist, seems, for most of its du­ra­tion, dis­gusted by the bur­dens of cor­po­re­al­ity. Then, at the end, it re­veals its con­ser­va­tive con­vic­tion that re­li­gion, so­cial con­ven­tion and the at­ten­tions of wise old men can cure us of the sin of be­ing our­selves.

If you like brim­stone with your sex­ploita­tion, then get in line.

Re­pent, sin­ner: Christina Ricci will soon feel the wrath of God in Black Snake Moan

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