Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. And sometimes an industrial-strength steel chain that links a wayward white woman (Ricci) to the radiator of a creepy Tennessee bluesman (Jackson)...let’s just say such things are beyond metaphor. Delightfully outrageous, Black Snake Moan is an explosive mixture of sex, race and down-South swamp water. A smelly, sweaty movie (in the best of senses), Craig Brewer’s follow-up to Hustle & Flow feels like a modern exploitation gem; it’s amazing to think the writer-director has used his newfound clout to make a movie this provocatively retrograde.
Wresting redemption and a career-high performance out of the muck is Christina Ricci, all but unrecognizable as the sex-crazed, drug-addled Rae. Ricci takes Rae from doomed partyer (“Kiss my rebel cooch,” she snarls in a fierce put-down) to guttered throwaway doll and captive. Samuel L. Jackson’s Lazarus (pardon the name)—the tortured soul and divorc who finds her, cleans her up and chains her to his missionary zeal—is also fine, if a bit obvious from him, a career shouter. Defiantly, Brewer expects us to accept their bizarre symbiosis as empowering: a reversal of the slavery paradigm which leads to self-discovery. That’s kind of a crock—but somehow it works, eased along by the committed performances and a superb soundtrack of grungy blues tunes. Only a last-act lapse into psychobabble (including the most effective session of couples counseling in therapeutic history) sends the movie into tidiness. Before then, what we have is something wonderfully dirty. (Opens Fri; Click here for venues.) — Joshua Rothkopf