I'm going to throw this out on the table right now; if you are reading this review because you have some sort of interest or crush on Christina Ricci, this film is a must own title for you. She gets naked. A lot. The R rating for "Strong Sexual Content" explicitly relates to the talented and curvy young actress. She looks quite good in the buff, even considering the actress ate nothing but sugar to achieve an unhealthy look.
Now that we've gotten that out of the way, for all of those out there who want to know about the movie itself, the performances and whether or not it is worthy of purchase for the complete content; I fall into the camp that thinks "Black Snake Moan" is one of the better films released so far this year. I fully believe that Samuel L. Jackson is the man. There is no doubt about that. I'm also a person that has admired much of Christina Ricci's work since she has reached adulthood. The only reason I had some original hesitation about "Black Snake Moan" was the inclusion of Justin Timberlake. As far as my book is concerned, Timberlake will always be linked to the horrendous boy band, ‘N Sync. I'm not sure I will ever be able to take him seriously as an actor or a performer after fronting ‘N Sync. It is just hard to not picture him as something other than a teen love-starved, squeaky clean songster.
"Black Snake Moan" is a film about three tormented souls who all suffer from emotional flaws and an inability to completely fit into society. Rae (Christina Ricci) is a young girl who was sexually abused as a child and hops in and out of any cold bed she can find to look for love and find emotional solace from her painful past. Her boyfriend, Ronnie (Justin Timberlake) is a young man leaving for military service, but flawed for duty because of debilitating anxiety attacks. Lazarus (Samuel L. Jackson) is an overly religious and angry man who is recovering from terrible emotional pain after his wife left him for his younger brother. Lazarus operates his farm by his lonesome and has given up playing his guitar and his beloved blues music due to his emotional struggling and difficulty in dealing with his new lot on life.
One morning, Rae is raped, beaten and left along the roadside near Lazarus' farm. He finds the barely clothed girl and sees she has been badly beaten. Lazarus brings Rae in and treats her wounds, but quickly finds she has a disease that will not be easy to treat. He sees her sexual torment and hopes to clean her of what is forcing her into a lifestyle that is below that of what she deserves. He looks for inner salvation by helping Rae mend her wounds, even if it means chaining her to a hot water radiator in his living room. Rae does not appreciate the chain and looks for sex wherever she can find it. Eventually, Rae finds an ally and a friend in the old and grizzled Lazarus and the two begin to help each other heal. Eventually, Ronnie is tossed from military service and returns to discover that Rae has been sleeping around and does not take too lightly to her sleeping under Lazarus' roof.
Redemption and recovery are the principal themes of "Black Snake Moan" and these themes are intertwined with religious references and deep-meaning blues music. Rae and Lazarus are both good people, but their suffering has forced them into lifestyles that no longer fit who they truly are. This story of redemption succeeds in part to a good story by writer/director Craig Brewer, but mostly in part to the incredible performances by Christina Ricci and Samuel L. Jackson. Ricci's daring and baring performance shows that the actress is willing to take risks for the art of acting. Her transformation in this film into the skin of trampy trailer trash is convincing and disturbing in the honesty of her performance. Samuel L. Jackson is commanding as Lazarus. When he is strumming the guitar and belting out profanity-laced blues music, it is quite impressive. Without ignoring Mr. Timberlake, he isn't bad, but he still comes across as a bit too squeaky clean. Thankfully, he isn't in the film for very long.
I had first watched "Black Snake Moan" on Blu-ray before having an opportunity to screen the film on standard definition DVD. While the film is certainly better looking in high definition, Christina Ricci couldn't have looked any better in standard definition that she does in this nice looking DVD release. The film is formatted at 2.35:1 and is an above average looking release for the standard definition format. Detail is very good and individual facial features and tattoos can be easily made out. Of course, Ricci looks stunning throughout the film and is in full display. Colors are also still stunning on standard definition. The greens and blues used in the film during the picture's darker moments are very impressive with strong black levels and shadow detail, although the football pad scene did feel a bit weak. The film's bright and vivid daytime scenes are just as impressive and when Sam runs over the rose garden in his tractor, it looks incredible. I admit to being spoiled by the high definition version of the film, but for those that are sticking to the tried and true DVD format, this one will not disappoint. And if you want a good look at Miss Ricci, it definitely will not disappoint.
Given the limited source materials, "Black Snake Moan" sounds about as good in Dolby Digital 5.1 than the higher bandwidth Blu-ray release sounded. There was a slight more amount of detail to the individual sounds, but without comparing them directly, one would be hard-pressed to notice. The deep bass of blues music stood out nicely and perfectly accentuated the solid mid-level and high-levels reproduced during the film's running time. Samuel L. Jackson learned to play guitar for this film and did his own musical numbers. His efforts were certainly not in vain, because this sounds absolutely incredible. Dialogue is strong and the great acting jobs of Ricci and Jackson hold up, regardless of what other sounds inhabit the speakers. When Lazarus decides to return to his music and plays at the local bar, it sounds absolutely incredible and I had to revisit the scene to turn it up even louder. For Sam Jackson fans, I can also verify that he gets to sing lyrics with his iconic two words, M.F. Aside from the strong vocals and amazing music, the film's sound effects sound very good and are done nicely. Rear surrounds have a number of environmental and ambient effects and everything from the old truck motor to the rattling of the chain sounded good in this film.
"Black Snake Moan" is provided with a number of nice supplements and plenty of involvement from the man that brought you "Hustle and Flow," Craig Brewer. His first inclusion on the disc is the Commentary by Writer/Director Craig Brewer. He talks about his influences, his experiences on set and his appreciation for his cast and crew. Brewer points out little details regarding editing, set design and recycled elements from his first film. Brewer delivered a very nice commentary and his historical tidbits about Memphis were also appreciated. The making of documentary, Conflicted: The Making of Black Snake Moan (27:54) is a lengthy feature with involvement by Producers Stephanie Allain and John Singleton, Craig Brewer and the film's two primary stars Christina Ricci and Samuel L. Jackson. The film featured a lot of great talking-heads bits and making-of footage that made this an enjoyable half hour.
The lesser supplements are still just as entertaining as the primary two features. Rooted in Blues (12:39) looks at the music contained in the film and how Craig Brewer had chosen much of the music he did and his friendship with the film's composer Scott Bomar. The second feature rooted in music, The Black Snake Moan (9:02) looks at the song written by Blind Melon Jefferson, a blind bluesman. This was an oddly entertaining feature about a song written by Jefferson detailing his musical views on why he went blind. The five Deleted Scenes (12:23) are mostly involving Samuel L. Jackson's character and feature optional commentary by Craig Brewer. Although they didn't add much to the film, Samuel L. Jackson did a fine acting job in them. They are also shown in full high definition. Finally, a Photo Gallery and the film's theatrical trailer conclude the extras.
I enjoyed "Black Snake Moan" for much more than seeing the talented Christina Ricci bare her soul and her body in a career defining performance. Samuel L. Jackson is as convincing and powerful as ever. The story about redemption from ones tormented past and recovering into a new life succeeds because of the writing and directing by Craig Brewer and his perfectly casted actors. I can't think of anybody else that would have done a better job with this film than Ricci and Jackson. The Blu-ray release featured one of the best looking transfers that I've yet to see. The standard definition release is also impressive, but given the lesser resolution, it is expected for this version to not directly compete. This is still a very good looking release and considering this film was an ‘art-house' type of release, it is all the more impressive that it looks this good on DVD. The sound is good, but cannot compete with the stunning visuals. The supplements are informative and entertaining and feature deleted scenes in high definition. This is a very good film and well worth picking up on DVD.