Samuel L. Jackson, Christina Ricci, and Justin Timberlake star in a film written and directed by Craig Brewer.

You’ve seen the ad, now see the movie. From the kitschy look of its ad campaign-with nubile wild girl Christina Ricci in chains under the apparent control of the scruffily dressed Samuel L. Jackson-Black Snake Moan looks as if it’s a new spin on, or possibly a parody of, the exploitive films once found on the drive-in circuit. (It’s also found in the Quentin Tarantino-hosted Grindhouse series, now at the New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles.) Consider the elements: Loose Southern girls in chains! Broken beer bottle fights in juke joints! $7.50 per carload!

To some degree, writer/director Craig Brewer’s film is just that, a decently budgeted film with fine actors (yes, even Justin Timberlake) taking on the world of low-budget B-movies. But there’s much more-especially as the early transgressions and titillations of the film’s sex and violence shift in moral direction-than just last-reel face-saving devices inserted into shamelessly base exercises in drive-in diversions.

In Black Snake Moan, pulp yields to personal truths and inner-demon-chasing of a deep and even empathetic sort. We know something runs deeper than shtick from the opening sequence, a vintage black-and-white interview with the late blues legend Son House, who speaks of the nature of the blues. Blues music-some played and well sung by Jackson-is a central metaphor and defines sonic texture in the film. It’s used as a narrative device in a way similar to the use of Elvis Presley and early R&B in Hounddog (which also similarly dealt with the damage done by abuse and distorted sexual awakening).

Here, Ricci draws on her natural talents to play a dazed, nymphomaniac pleasure-seeker in rural Mississippi, feeling the pain after her boyfriend (Timberlake) deploys for military duty. Jackson, a gruff but morally stable farmer reeling from my-woman-done-left-me blues, takes on the rehabilitation of this obviously wayward waif. Chains are required.

Brewer, with able help from his well-cast leads, has come up with a fresh cinematic concoction, unequal parts raunch and redemption, vernacular movie references and emotional sincerity. He just added blues grit and vibrato in the soundtrack and stirred liberally.


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