1 May 2005 | pyrocitor
Like reading a comic book - literally
Based on the graphic novels by Frank Miller (who also co-directed and wrote the screenplay) Sin City tells three stories of crime, corruption, and redemption set in the fictional town 'Basin City'. The first story details the quest of Marv (Mickey Rourke) who searches town for the man who murdered Goldie (Jamie King), the woman he believes to be his one true love. The second tells of Dwight (Clive Owen) who must cover up the death of a corrupt police officer (Benicio Del Toro) in order to avoid a war between the cops, and the girls of old town, led by Gail. (Rosiaro Dawson) The final story shows Hartigan, (Bruce Willis) a beat up retired cop framed for a crime he didn't commit, trying to save the life of a girl whose life he saved at a young age, who grew up to become a stripper, (Jessica Alba) while all the while being tracked by a mysterious stranger with a grotesque appearance. (Nick Stahl)
It's a churning vat of old fashioned pulp style stories, each one more dark and edgy then the last. And yet, Sin City itself is morbidly fascinating; if you don't mind delving through the haze of sleaze, violence and corruption you'll find a really compelling story underneath the hard exterior. Sin City exudes the essence of classic film noir, except combined with over-the-top violence, characters and dialogue to maintain that comic book feel. Giving co-director status to creator Frank Miller and allowing him to write the screenplay was perhaps the wisest move director Robert Rodriguez ever made, because Miller's gritty influence shines through, perfectly capturing the mood of his original creations.
And the visuals... extraordinary. The entire film is shot in black and white, except for certain items which appear in colour. (a red dress, red blood, although sometimes the blood is stark white, and not to mention Nick Stahl's character, Yellow Bastard, who is, indeed, yellow) Rodriguez is also smart enough to use a greenscreen backdrop, so as to recreate Miller's gritty, moody sets by computer animation instead of trying to create them first hand. And it works, wonderfully - the sets perfectly set the tone for the rest of the movie: dark, bold, over-the-top and quality work unlike any other. Add the characters' noirish costumes (almost every male character sports, as Marv puts it, a "damn fine coat") unique appearances, (it says a lot for the quality of the movie when a character like Yellow Bastard doesn't seem out of place) and movement (take note that if the movie was paused at any given point, the frame would look like a panel from a comic book) and Miller and Rodriguez perfectly nail the comic book feel.
It also helps that a wonderful cast has been assembled to bring life to the mayhem. Spot on performances abroad here, but the standouts in my opinion were Elijah Wood, who was truly chilling as Kevin, the silent, cannibalistic serial killer; Nick Stahl as Roarke Junior/Yellow Bastard, a truly creepy and disgusting character; Clive Owen, playing against type as Dwight; (who isn't exactly a sophisticated, British gentleman, but then again, no one in this film is) Mickey Rourke as Marv, managing to turn out a stunning performance, even with his face buried under several layers of latex; Benicio Del Toro almost unrecognizable as corrupt cop Jackie Boy and a welcome appearance from Michael Clarke Duncan as Manute, an enforcer specializing in inflicting pain. The hard edged ladies also do a great job, with Jessica Alba, Rosiaro Dawson, Carla Gugino, Jamie King and the rest all giving great performances.
It's all in the style of such films as Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill, so it may be wise to use those films as guidelines of what to expect in terms of content. It's true that Sin City is not for everyone: the violence is brutal and unflinching, most characters are disreputable, manipulative and sleazy, and the whole feel of the film is undesirable, and not too cheery. But if none of that deters you, Sin City should be known as a must see, for the superb visual stylistics if nothing else. But the style and feel of the comic books is perfectly captured and thrust into our faces. Frank Miller must be proud.