When ex-blues musician Lazarus finds the town nymphomaniac Rae left for dead on the side of the road, he vows to nurse her back to health…and cure her of her wickedness. Until then, she’ll be chained to the immovable radiator in his home. But Lazarus has demons of his own: his wife just left him for his own brother. While Lazarus and Rae struggle to fix their broken lives, the situation threatens to explode as Rae's boyfriend Ronnie — a roughneck soldier just back from Iraq — comes searching for his missing lover.
In the bible, Jesus brings Lazarus back from the dead. Now imagine a modern day Lazarus who is not really dead, but decaying inside--a man who feels that his life is over. Whose plans and dreams have been shattered. Black Snake Moan revolves around two tortured souls in rural Tennessee: a promiscuous young temptress named Rae (Christina Ricci) and an aging bluesman-turned-farmer, Lazarus (Samuel Jackson).
Lazarus (Samuel Jackson) shows inner resolve as he tries to piece together his tattered life after his wife leaves him.
The plot takes off as Lazarus' wife, no longer in love with him, runs off with his younger brother.
Meanwhile, Rae's boyfriend, Ronnie (Justin Timberlake), having enlisted in the armed forces,
heads off to Iraq, leaving her alone. The petite bombshell immediately falls prey to her inner
demons and the small town's less savory characters. Soon, Rae is left beaten and unconscious by
the side of the road, just yards from Lazarus' house. He finds her comatose the following
morning and takes her in without anticipating the tormented psyche or seductive, trashy
behavior he will encounter. Once she is revived and Lazarus realizes what demons he is dealing
with, he bolts out of his house, consulting the bible for an answer. He seems to realize at that
point that the only way to bring himself back is to help the young lady--that she was put in his
hands for him to heal her. With steady patience, he tries to show her a better existence.
Early in the film, Lazarus' wife expresses resentment for his boring lifestyle and mentions with
disdain his old-fashioned radiator as part of a world she wants to escape. Later, Lazarus uses the
old heater to chain Rae captive so she cannot go tramping around town. This cast-iron radiator
proves to be the film's rock-solid centerpiece--a symbol of inner sanctity, strong character and
solid values. Writer/Director Craig Brewer uses it as a physical manifestation of Lazarus'
unshakeable resolve, his blues legacy and his black Christian heritage. It gives form to the way
his convictions remain firm. But can Lazarus help the tormented Rae achieve this type of inner
As with Paramount's other Blu-ray releases, Black Snake Moan's 1080p presentation is highly detailed, with excellent depth in both light and dark shots. Watch the way airborne dust comes into focus during Rae's flashback of being sexually assaulted as she is recoving in Lazarus' house. The picture is allowed to go soft, except for these dust particles. But even the out-of-focus areas retain excellent resolution and color. Throughout the film, the AVC MPEG-4 codec delivers striking presence. The detail reveals every flaw in skin and clothing. And it looks extraordinary, which is a testament not only to the excellent transfer during Blu-ray production, but to the makeup and costume team. As for that, Christina Ricci seemed to be wearing more makeup than clothing for much of the film.
I feel compelled to warn Blu-ray buyers about the "black bars" on the top and bottom of the screen in films with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. It shouldn't require a warning, as this is the way the film was produced and the way the director intended it to be viewed, but some HD fans still seem upset when their screen isn't filled up, as if some aspect ratios are "wrong". They aren't wrong. The 2.35:1 picture lends a distinctive feel to Brewer's long shots of the rural Tennessee town and of Lazarus' house where much of the film takes place.
Back level and overall contrast are stunning. The quality and good bitrate of the video left me wondering how Paramount achieved near reference-quality picture on a BD-25. The answer, of course, is by short-changing us on the audio quality.
The soundtrack of Black Snake Moan figures prominently in the power of the film. In fact, the
opening scene, before the credits roll, features old footage of blues legend Son House describing
how the music is tied in to the relationship between a man and a woman and the deceit that
creeps into that relationship. He describes how it can affect the heart and soul. "The blues hits
you here," says Son House, holding his fingertips to the left side of his chest.
Unfortunately, the Blu-ray does not include lossless PCM or Dolby TrueHD and does not fully pay
off its blues-based soundtrack. The DD on Black Snake Moan fails to impress. Though it will be
sufficient for the average HT fanatic, the audio is relatively two-dimensional, brittle and a bit
harsh compared to material on BDs using PCM. The attack/decay has the typical characteristics
of poorly produced CD sound, with insufficient bloom in voices, sound effects and
instrumentation. For some sequences, this was perfectly adequate, as in Lazarus' electric slide
guitar playing during the thunderstorm. That scene featured significantly compressed audio--
heavy distortion and reverb. But for more lifelike sounds of voices and acoustic guitar and, in the
same scene, the thunder itself, the BD falls short. LPCM is a very important feature and the
studios must understand that the highest possible quality in audio is as essential as video to the
Overall, the mic'ing, mixing and engineering is adequate. Blues has a muddy sound to it, and
even the best artists tend to be poorly recorded. So it is silly to judge the soundtrack too harshly.
The DD track makes ample use of the LFE channel and moderate use of the surrounds.
Soundstage depth is shallow and relatively lacking, although presence is quite good if not
absolutely realistic for voices and most ambient sounds. Imaging is poor. Sounds seem to stick to
the speakers and are not thrown free, as with higher resolution productions on BD.
While much extra content is included on the BD, only the deleted scenes are high resolution.
One letdown in particular was "Rooted in the Blues", a standard definition, 12-minute featurette
that I hoped would do what the movie did not: transcend the characters' inner worlds and tap
deeply into blues lore. In the featurette, we see why that didn't happen. Brewer and the movie's
composer, Scott Bomar, are concerned more with their own inner circle than with blues
mythology. Though Black Snake Moan is a song originally written by the late Blind Lemon
Jefferson and the character Lazarus was inspired by blues innovator R.L. Burnside, who died in
2005, those larger stories are not explored. For the movie, Bomar worked with his buddies:
guitarist Kenny Brown and drummer Cedric Burnside, R.L.'s grandson. That family relationship is
about the strongest tie to the past, and much of the acoustic guitar work, although prerecorded,
was actually played by Samuel Jackson. And, as if it needs to be said, he sung the vocal parts.
The other special features include commentary by Brewer, which will be of interest to fans of the
movie. One can really get a sense of his passion for the story. There is a similar sentiment in
"Conflicted: The Making of Black Snake Moan" in which we learn that Ricci's pornstar appearance
didn't only cause the character Rae problems, but caused problems on the set. The deleted
scenes provide greater insight into the story, but I'm glad they were left on the cutting room
floor. A featurette of the movie's namesake explores the blues legacy more deeply than "Rooted
in the Blues", and was a welcome addition.
There was a time in the south, less than a century ago, when one man and a guitar could provide
entertainment for an entire town. While we now enjoy Blu-ray discs to keep us entertained, sharecroppers like Mississippi Fred McDowell or Sam "Lightinin'" Hopkins would touch crowds to the core with their distinctive style of guitar and vocal projection. Whether Samuel Jackson did justice to the blues legacy in this movie is up to the viewer, but clearly he is no Robert Johnson.
The trailers for Black Snake Moan, showing a scantily clad Ricci chained at the feet of Jackson, and even the disc's menu showing her flipping her middle finger to a huge tractor suggest a shocking and disturbing story. The image of a chain used by a black man to imprison a white woman has such stigma attached that one can't help but find it disturbing for a multitude of reasons. For centuries it was black women who were enslaved by white men. The chain conjures images of rape and of slavery in the south. But watching the movie, the chain was not as significant a symbol as the radiator on the other end.
To have the images from the ads and trailers turn out to mean that a black man is chaining up a white woman to cure her of her wickedness...well only Hollywood can come up with such a story. In this age of political correctness, filmmakers are sure coming up with some brain twisters. The bottom line is that Jackson and Ricci perform admirably and the story of redemption and inner healing is a powerful one. As for whether it's paid off in the end, that's something you'll have to decide for yourself. With graphic images of rape and hard-hitting adult material and language, Black Snake Moan is not "family film festival". But for adult audiences that don't mind some shock value, it could hit the spot.