Sin City (2005) / Thriller-Action
MPAA Rated: R for pervasive violence, gore, nudity, language, and sexual content
Running Time: 118 min.
Cast: Bruce Willis, Mickey Rourke, Clive Owen, Benicio Del Toro, Jessica Alba, Rosario Dawson, Nick Stahl, Jaime King, Brittany Murphy, Elijah Wood, Michael Madsen, Devon Aoki, Powers Boothe, Michael Clarke Duncan, Carla Gugino, Rutger Hauer, Josh Hartnett, Frank Miller
Director: Robert Rodriguez (also Quentin Tarantino)
Screenplay: Robert Rodriguez (based on the graphic novels "The Big Fat Kill", "That Yellow Bastard", and "The Hard Good-Bye" by Frank Miller, using much of the dialogue directly)
No question that Sin City is a labor of love for writer/director Robert Rodriguez (Once Upon a Time in Mexico, The Faculty), who went through painstaking effort in order to capture the look, feel and characterizations of the original comic book by the legendary Frank Miller. Miller's original graphic novels were sleekly drawn, with stark silhouettes, shadows, drawn in black and white accented with a minimalist color scheme -- all of which are replicated perfectly here. The replication from page to screen is so complete that Rodriguez even gave Miller co-directing credit for setting up the look and feel of the scenes that were shot for the movie, even though he didn't actually direct in the traditional sense. Thanks to Rodriguez, this is Frank Miller's Sin City, in every sense of the phrase.
The movie, just like the comic it is inspired from, is not to every taste. Hard-boiled action, crime noir dialogue, and an ever present sense of the perverse and macabre permeates every frame, so those looking for traditional fare might not be in tune with the world both Miller and Rodriguez have represented. The violence, while stylized, is quite brutal, with sadistic torture and seedy underpinnings that aren't for those with weak stomachs or the easily offended. You've been warned.
Sin City features three main storylines, all taking place in Basin City, each adapted from a separate series of "Sin City" comics, although some overlap between the stories exists as some of the characters and locations of the city are the same. After a mostly tangential opening scene featuring Josh Hartnett (Wicker Park), we are introduced to Detective John Hartigan (Bruce Willis, Hostage), a soon-to-be-retired cop out to crack the last case of his career, nailing the child-raping son of a senator, Junior (Stahl, Terminator 3). The second main segment stars Mickey Rourke (Man on Fire, Spun) as Marv, a grizzled lowlife who takes a liking to a prostitute named Goldie (Jaime King, White Chicks), only to vow ruthless revenge when she is murdered. Clive Owen (Closer, The Bourne Identity) takes center stage right after, as Dwight, who takes up the fight along with Old Town's prostitutes when a slimy cop gets iced, potentially starting a war between the city's competing factions should the police no longer offer their "protection". The film picks up the first story once again, although out of continuity, several years later.
I'm going to guess that Sin City is likely to strongly polarize viewers with its strong violence, knowingly superficial characterizations, and decidedly different look. Some viewers will be blown away by the visuals and dynamic sense of viscerally engaging aesthetic. It will also please those who enjoy movies that push forward the titillating nature of sex and violence -- it is called "Sin City" after all. On the other extreme, there will be those who are repulsed by the imagery and dark themes, not really entertained by the very unrealistic characters (especially the man-eating Kevin and the grotesque Yellow Bastard), or the intentionally stilted noir dialogue. It all depends what your cup of tea is. Make that a cup of coffee. Strong, black, unsweetened coffee.
Of course, I can't presume to speak for everyone. I can only offer my take, and that is to say that the strengths and weaknesses are both there, but the overall experience is so strong, that whatever faults one can ascribe to the film are overshadowed by the things which Rodriguez does so well. The visuals are the largest of the strengths, with actors mostly shooting their scenes in front of blue screens (or green screens) with backgrounds added after the fact. It really is a beautiful looking movie, in its dark and sinister way, with lush black and white photography, and splashes color to accentuate the action. The ensemble of actors is also very impressive, each very strong in their respective roles, with a performance by Mickey Rourke that will have many critics and fans clamoring, "comeback".
I do have a few minor nitpicks. Although I do realize that Rodriguez was trying to capture the look and feel of threedistinct stories from the books they are based on, it probably would have helped the cinematic flow if they overlapped each other, instead of playing out sequentially. Although most of us have grown used to movies shot out of sequence, the final scenario does show some characters who have already died, and it does beg the question as to why it was split from the first sequence to begin with. There is also a bit of aloofness to the story for long periods, despite the humor and very in-your-face violence. It's almost so over-the-top that it lacks the ability to achieve shock value anymore, as we watch grisly murders and decapitations among many characters, and yet have little or no feeling for any of them. In other words, Sin City can be a bit boring at times.
Quentin Tarantino (Jackie Brown, Reservoir Dogs) pays back Rodriguez for some scoring work he did on Kill Bill by shooting a scene of the movie, although I honestly wish I didn't know this from the outset. Wondering with each scene if it were the one QT directed can be distracting, so I'll do some of you a favor by letting you know that it is the sequence where Clive Owen is driving an incapacitated Benicio Del Toro (The Hunted, The Pledge) in a speeding car. It's one of the best sequences in the movie.
Sin City is an experience unlike any other, which should not only please Frank Miller's die-hard fans, but probably will earn him a legion of new ones in the process. Robert Rodriguez has made a near masterwork here, in one of the joyously pungent pieces of moviemaking I've seen in quite some time. While it isn't a perfect film by any means, it is a film made with so much ambition, the fact that it succeeds so often is far more than anyone could or should have ever expected. Sin City is for lovers of neo-noir and those who are "ready for a bit of the old ultra-violence".
©2005 Vince Leo