Sin City Review
For an introduction to Frank Miller’s creation please check out D.J. Nock’s feature article. For now, onto the film!
For the big screen adaptation, Director’s Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller translate the first three books that belong to the Sin City universe - three suspenseful storylines that share a connection and depict a city filled with corruption and violence, along with a host of intriguing characters who each have their own agenda.
It’s safe to say that comic book movies are the current “in thing”. Man, there’s not enough of them around lately; we’re even seeing adaptations of some of the more obscure comic books and graphic novels. OK so Sin City isn’t exactly obscure but it isn’t exactly as well known as the Web-Slinger, Caped Crusader or Watery Buffoon. Frank Miller’s creation found its own audience and its popularity has grown throughout the years, as did Mike Mignola’s Hellboy, which was to me another one of the world’s more obscure creations. As with Hellboy, Sin City is something that I had no prior knowledge about. Why are they making this film? What merits does it have? Why the hell have I never heard of it before? Ignorance? Well maybe just because I’m rubbish when it comes to comics, and now that I’ve seen the film I’m going to have to read the books, just as I did with the big H. One thing is for sure, if this isn’t a comic book come to life then I don’t know what is. How faithful is it? Shit, I dunno but I’d be surprised if it isn’t damn close, and that is based on the few panels of Miller’s work that I have seen. In fact there are just some stunningly recreated shots from his pages that just echo “respect“. Hell the man even helped out himself so they bloody well should do really.
Every ounce of Sin City is dripping with style. It’s as if the 40’s came back into fashion and all the big players like Humphrey Bogart, Judy Garland, Gary Cooper, James Cagney, Lauren Bacall, Spencer Tracy and friends were given bay knives and sent out to kill each other, resulting in frenzied noir-ish bloodshed, while they dance the night away to the sweet sounds of jazz. Sin City is a noir like no other. It borrows so many elements while retaining Miller’s unique vision. The stylistic black and white adds an air of authenticity to said work but also creates the kind of visual flair that is so little seen in contemporary cinema. Had this been made 60 years ago - well it probably would have been banned, but damn ya’ll if it aint a pretty film. Robert Rodriguez’s cinematography is absolutely stunning, without reservation his best work to date; the guy knows his camerawork and the palette couldn’t be any richer for it. Impressive still is that the film relies little on actual location footage. This is maxed out CG, but unlike George Lucas and his ropey ideas about how to utilise the technology to enhance a film, Rodriguez and Miller understand exactly how the medium should be used. As a result Sin City is brimming with wonderful settings that look like they actually belong; it‘s a character in itself. The backdrop is sprawling while CG cars race around town, occasionally mowing down people in cool comic fashion (more of which later). If Sin City doesn’t get a nomination for best cinematography and win at the next Oscars then it’ll be further proof that the academy is as poncey as I already think it is. I mean know.
Sin City seems to be getting a little bit of hassle over its usage of extreme violence and its sexual attitudes. I don’t see why as it’s a riot, particularly the former. Put it this way, if you didn’t find Tarantino’s violence in Kill Bill even remotely funny then it’s unlikely you’ll get your kicks from this. Sure it’s all glorified but let that not be a hindrance. Sure women get smacked in the face a lot; well so do the guys - equal rights and all that jazz, right? The film is as relentless as a train speeding with faulty brakes and at the end of the track there’s a tank parked. For every moment of action there comes a solid crashing of fists, cars, knives in heads - you name it - it happens. Thugs get their faces smashed through walls, limbs are sawn off, body parts are eaten and even the places where the sun don’t shine get to see a little violent light. But as much as they’ll make you wince or reel in horror they’ll put a big smile on your face. So ludicrously over the top are they that it’s impossible not to revel in their absurdness. It’s all testosterone filled mayhem, that could well be geared toward excitable boys, but is that all it is? A tale designed to cater for the male fantasy? Gorgeous woman running around in suspenders, while guys with guns act all heroic - is that what this film is all about? Perhaps. Will women complain about it? Some might. The women here are primarily sex objects, yes, but they’re far from soulless and they have scruples; they fight for what they believe in. As a means to titillate, the likes of Jessica Alba, Britney Murphy, Rosario Dawson and co. live up to the task, while we’re given gratuitous ass and tit shots. “Artistic” merit? You betcha. But this is Basin City, where prostitutes rule towns and serve up their own kind of justice. Let it not be said that these women can’t stand up for themselves; role models for every young girl (who chooses not to become a prostitute). In that respect both genders get fair treatment and if you don’t like it, well tough.
The following will contain minor spoilers :
Breaking down each tale then we begin with “The Hard Goodbye”. This sees Marv (Mickey Rourke) waking up in horror to discover that his girl Goldie (Jaime King) is lying dead next to him - murdered. Furthermore the police believe him to be the killer and pursue, while he takes to the dark alleyways in an attempt to find Goldie’s killer. It’s gonna be messy when this hulk of a man gets his hands on the baddies.
After a short introduction to the film (with Josh Hartnett in a neat little role that sets up the tone) we are introduced to Marv. The storyline is slight. This is a simple revenge film that rests on its protagonist, played to absolute perfection by Rourke, who, whether you know the comics or not is superb. He’s ugly, brutish but undeniably likeable. If anyone says that Sin City lacks any kind of humanity then they’ve not been watching the same film as I. Marv is a bit psychotic, not even he knows just how much as he’s permanently drugged up to the eyes on medication; but he’s a human figure, somewhat of a tragic one at that. The fact he finally found a little love for just a brief moment shows how much of a caring guy he can be, only his way of showing someone just how much he cares is a little unorthodox. Cue a series of ultra slick and ultra violent displays as it twists and turns up until its final moment, where Marv can’t resist another fine line. He’s a hulk of a man, invulnerable it would seem; shot up, repeatedly run over, beaten senseless, the works. Well this is a comic book world, people are allowed to possess super strength and leap from tall buildings without shattering bones as they land.
Elijah Wood makes for an unlikely baddie, though admirably he works well. He’s a scary little fellow who proves to be more than a match for Marv, and his emotionless front is quite sinister, not uttering a single line while Marv muses on and on. Support from Rutger Hauer and Carla Gugino ensures a well rounded cast who aren’t bogged down by such a brisk pace.
If you want to get political however then “The Hard Goodbye” is perfect cannon fodder for its deplorable depiction of senatorial aids and Christianity. But it’s the best kind of deplorability; it echoes our time as well as any other recent film. Politicians are nasty little pieces of work and clergy men are dodgy folk - Rutger Hauer’s Cardinal Roark seems to like little boys, only they’re the kind who eats people in the name of God, while Frank Miller’s priest character is also slightly corrupt. But it relates to us serious facts and ignorant claims (much like the latter, “That Yellow Bastard”) with concerns toward the attitudes of a higher power that governs the world.
In “The Big Fat Kill” private detective, Dwight (Clive Owen) ends up in an old part of town; governed by whores (prostitutes, women of the night, whatever’s politically correct these days) after chasing bent copper, Jackie Boy (Benicio Del Toro), who seems to have a knack of screwing around with the wrong kind of gals. A war is about to brew between the police force and an army of ultra hookers.
The second story has the difficult task of living up to the first. It seems almost impossible after that adrenaline drive but it holds up exceedingly well. While it’s not as engaging as Marv’s tale it does bring with it some exuberant action sequences and an interesting assortment of characters, and I don’t just mean in terms of fish nets and cleavage. This story is the most character intense; there are so many faces, so many agendas and so little time to explain it all in any great detail. Thankfully it doesn’t have to and as it rests on the capable shoulders of Clive Owen it provides enough information to fuel along the plot. It must be noted however that Dwight’s background has yet to be further developed. As such we only get a fleeting insight into his persona, hopefully more of which is elaborated upon in the next film. The lack of understanding here might well alienate some viewers and I admit to having my own questions about him which should be addressed in future.
Aside from that things are still pretty tense, after all this is a story of a power struggle and corrupt forces. Aiding Owen is Rosario Dawson in a fine turn that sees a genuine lick of sexual chemistry between the two, along with Devon Aoki’s sassy killer, Miho - a character who seems awfully popular in this tale, being called upon several times, and Brittany Murphy‘s playful portrayal of Shellie. But it’s Benicio Del Toro who walks away with top honours, for reasons that I shall avoid spoiling.
The final story, “That Yellow Bastard” follows Hartigan (Bruce Willis) - a cop who has just one hour left before kissing his badge goodbye. When he learns that a young Nancy Callahan (Makenzie Vega) has been kidnapped by senator Rourke‘s son, Jr (Nick Stahl) he sets out to rescue her and make his last night an unforgettable one.
The second story moved away from the explosive nature of the first, whereas the third provides equal measures of the two. Both a talkative piece and violent to boot this is a perfect amalgamation. Again the revenge motif rears its head and none is as sweet as that which we witness in the final moments. Like the first film and something which the second lacked more of, this story brings about deeper character emotions and understanding. Hartigan and Nancy’s relationship is neatly explored, which leaves their pairing together quite believable and ultimately all the more poignant. However the transition from daughter-like love to the love of his life is swift and as such a little heavy going (though it is to be noted that Rodriguez expressed making cuts to several sequences which should hopefully surface on a future DVD release). Love and sacrifice echo throughout the tale’s darkest moments, which owe themselves to Nick Stahl’s eerie portrayal of the yellow skinned pervert who lusts after young girls. What’s more he’s so nasty and depraved that by the time Hartigan is through with him you’ll cheer on his delightfully gruesome demise. At first glance “That Yellow Bastard” (and I mean the character) looks almost out of place. We didn’t know who or what he was in the trailer and when his appearance is finally explained it seems his predicament just works within the film’s context.
Bruce Willis is brilliant as the ageing tormented cop, certainly one of his defining moments, while Jessica Alba is too hot for words. Powers Booth as the slime ball senator manages to ooze out a great performance, thus rounding up another perfect cast.
The film can simply be described in one word - “beautiful”. Everything about Sin City is a work of art. The setting is sublime, its violence is glorious and it’s easily the sexiest film of the year; reason enough to believe that there is a god who gave each actress the most incredible assets. But seriously, there‘s a lot more. Everyone here is incredible through and through; you won’t forget this line up for a long time. So get out there boys and girls and cheer on this amazing piece of work. 2007 seems so far away but here’s looking forward to Sin City 2.