This article originally appeared on The Film Experience
The Film Experience is celebrating each of the upcoming Honorary Oscar winners with a few pieces on their career. I dive into my favorite Samuel L. Jackson performance in Black Snake Moan.
Craig Brewer’s Black Snake Moan is a hard sell on paper and an even harder sell in execution. Jackson’s Lazarus finds half-naked and half-dead sex addict Rae (Christina Ricci) on the side of the road. He takes her back to his house to nurse her back to health. In order to cure her sex addiction, Lazarus chains Rae to his radiator. Luckily for Brewer and the film, Jackson fully invests in the provocative material, delivering a fiery performance of angry righteousness, and one of the best star turns of his career…
Lazarus is an angry, but deeply religious man. His wife was having an affair with his brother and left him. Now all he has is his farm and his blues guitar to keep him company. When Rae falls into his path, he sees it as an opportunity from God to cleanse this woman of her wicked ways. This is not something he does lightly, but has a true sense of duty to perform.
Regardless of the “correctness” of his action, Jackson wears Lazarus’ weather all over. There isn’t much speed to any of his actions, but his farm-bred strength is on full display. This task will take hard work and hard work is not something Lazarus is against doing.
These days, Black Snake Moan is more culturally relevant for its meme potential. The scene in question finds Rae attempting to escape her chain and Lazarus standing by his decision. He fires a thousand-yard stare and quietly declares, “I ain’t gonna be moved on this. Right or wrong, you’re gonna mind me.” He proceeds to drag Rae inch-by-inch back into the house. Anyone else but Jackson and this whole scene doesn’t land. Jackson has been destined to play a revivalist preacher his whole career and this is about as close as it gets.
This doesn’t mean Jackson is nothing but fire and brimstone. The majority of his acting is restrained as he seeks to understand the situation. His chemistry with Ricci is that of an exasperated parent, growing towards a mutual adoration. On the nicer side, his gentle flirting with S. Epatha Merkerson is one of the sweeter moments in what is otherwise a fairly harsh film.
Most of the film is set inside the house with Jackson and Ricci, but a standout scene takes place in a nearby bar which gives Jackson has a chance to show off his significant on-screen magnetism. After finally releasing Rae from her chain, Lazarus brings her to a bar for some much-needed release. Not only does Rae get the chance to let loose, Lazarus finally unloads his much-talked-about blues musician skills on the crowd with a performance of “Stack-O-Lee.” Jackson reaches through the screen to play directly to the audience. It’s pure electricity.