2005Director: Robert Rodriguez & Frank Miller
Cast: Mickey Rourke, Clive Owen, Bruce Willis, Rosario Dawson
rank Miller, the artist who originally created the comic series Sin City, was once quoted as saying; “Art is a fire hydrant, and in Hollywood, the dogs are lined up down the street.” Is it any wonder, then, that the only person Miller would finally consent to hand his baby over to was fellow outlaw Robert Rodriguez?
I remember reading somewhere that Rodriguez had to resign from the Director’s Guild of America when he took on Frank Miller as co-director for Sin City and thinking it was a joke. When I later learned it was true, I was suddenly reminded of all the reasons I loved Rodriguez from the bottom of my anarchic little heart, even if I didn’t love every one of his movies. The man who originally sold his body to medical experimentation to help bankroll Il Mariachi was still keeping it real, or, at least, more real than most. Rodriguez cited that it was easier to hand over his DGA card than make any unnecessary compromises. All of this was shaping Sin City up to be a pretty subversive flick, and by “subversive” I mean a comic book movie that might be true to the source material for a change.
Sin Cityis based on three of the currently seven installments of Miller’s bleak, ultra-violent, over-sexed noir series of the same name. Set in the perpetually dark and fictional Basin City, the aptly named location is a catch-all for the very worst of humanity. Murderous psychotics prowl the streets hell-bent on vengeance, and those are just the good guys.
In the first installment, “The Hard Goodbye”, Mickey Rourke plays Marv, a rough looking tough-guy with a jaw like the front end of a Buick and hands that look like the textbook definition of “meat hooks”. Recently paroled, he meets up with a blonde bombshell at the local watering hole and can’t believe his luck when she invites him home for a night of passion. When he wakes to find her murdered beside him, he somewhat blindly vows to avenge her, this “angel” who showed him this singular kindness.
"He's not dead. He's just, uh...resting."
The second chapter, “The Big, Fat Kill” introduces us to red high-top wearing Dwight (Clive Owen), a calm, cool, collected maniac with a soft spot for the ladies. He helps his friend Gail (Rosario Dawson), a sort of hooker/mayor, dispose of the body of a murdered cop (Benicio Del Toro) to maintain the independent status quo in the police, pimp and relatively crime-free, prostitute-controlled Old Town.
The third and perhaps hardest to watch tale, for many reasons, is “That Yellow Bastard”. Bruce Willis plays Hartigan, a hard-nosed cop who pays the price for rescuing an 11-year-old girl from the clutches of the pedophiliac mayor’s son (an under-utilized Nick Stahl). He pays the price again eight years later to rescue the now 19-year-old cowgirl-stripper Nancy (Jessica Alba) when Junior (Stahl) returns, horribly mutated, to finish the job. His motivation? Little more than just malicious revenge.
Book-ending the trilogy are a sort of prologue/epilogue featuring “the Salesman” (Josh Hartnett) which feel weirdly tacked-on, seeming to have little to do with the rest of the film, but, hey, they look fantastic, so who cares? In fact, this movie’s looks go a long way toward excusing any of its…ahem…sins.
Shot entirely on a “digital backlot”, or green screen, on high definition digital video (like Sky Captain & the World of Tomorrow and a certain Japanese sci-fi masterpiece that we’re unlikely to ever see here on the big screen called Casshern), the world of Sin City is completely fabricated. Digitally re-created panel-by-panel from Miller’s comic, the result is nothing short of phenomenal. More starkly gorgeous than Sky Captain for being so much less busy and overbearing, the effect comes off as “more real than real”, not to mention an authentic adaptation of the comic’s unique visual style.
Dead-on too are Sin City’s denizens. Miller himself was reportedly dazzled by the casting process, remarking, “these people from my comic just kept coming in!” Perhaps most stunning is Rourke as Marv, who incidentally lays claim to the most favored vignette/character status with fans and critics alike. His balls-out rampage is like a one-man running of the bulls, and his voice, though part of a chorus of near identical gravelly film noir narrative growls, is the most natural. While Rourke owns his slice of Sin City, everyone else, most notably Clive Owen, Rosario Dawson, Devon Aoki as Miho and Elijah Wood as freaky cannibal nerd Kevin, is having cheeky fun playing dress-up. But that doesn’t make them any less fun to watch.
"...And that's why Extreme Makeover isn't all that it's cracked up to be..."
In fact, you’re hard-pressed to tear your eyes away from the sheer spectacle that is Sin City, even though the violence is so relentless and intense it’s numbing. I’m not kidding; this is pretty much 126 minutes, non-stop, of people getting their heads, limbs and balls blown off, or people getting their heads, limbs and balls sliced off, or people getting their heads, limbs and balls punched off. In fact, any way that you can think of to remove one’s head, limbs or balls is pretty much covered. Several times over. That and breasts. More and bigger breasts in the first five minutes than probably the entire Porky’s franchise. Sex and violence? You’ll be having a triple helping, thanks.
So, yeah, obviously Sin City is a place of adolescent male fantasy, as everyone so far has accused it of being. Doesn’t mean it doesn’t rock! High art it ain’t, given that it’s a world full of big, burly guys who run around kicking ass, shooting things, getting laid and exacting justice. But, hey, chances are if you’re that concerned about having your delicate sensibilities offended, you weren’t considering Sin City anyway, so having said that, remember you’re diving into the pulpiest pulp you’ve probably ever seen. But I’m willing to bet that you’ll come up gasping for air and dripping with savage glee.
Sin City is a beauty, no doubt about it. And whatever else anyone might say about it, there’s no denying that it’s got heart. For all its droolingly senseless violence, its psychotic heroes are ultimately driven by love. Forgiving it’s misguided romanticism and intentionally hammy voiceovers is a fair trade for Sin City’s breathtaking visuals and visceral thrills. While obviously not intended for a wider audience, those who like their films dark and slick will enjoy, and fans of the comic couldn’t have asked for a more faithful adaptation. Gore-geous!
By: Jen Cameron
Published on: 2005-04-08