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Review: Sin City

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If you’re reading this review, chances are pretty good that you already know Sin City was adapted by Robert Rodriguez from the series of hard-boiled graphic novels by Frank Miller. You probably already know that Rodriguez used Miller’s stark black-and-white images and kinetic storytelling and intertwines them with his own frenzied filmmaking techniques to come up with a film that’s actually less adaptation than it is translation. You probably know all that. What I want to add to that is this: the results of Miller and Rodriguez’ collaboration are stylish, visceral, disturbing–and a hell of a lot of fun.

Sin City can’t truly be called film noir, though that’s obviously where its roots lie. Both the comic and the film, though, take the basic staples of the noir genre–tough guy protagonists, bombshell dames, lots of guns–and pump them all through with a heavy dose of amphetamines. The good guys (if anyone in Basin City can truly be called “good”) are filled with a kind of tortured righteousness and a mean streak sharp as razor wire; the women are all sultry curves and both the promise and threat of sex; the villains are psychotically ruthless, perpetrators of violence even more heinous than that done by the “heroes.”

And the guns… man, are there guns. And knives, and swords, and fists, and throwing stars, and grenades. Violence is as endemic to Sin City as breast implants are to South Beach.

Rodriguez managed to assemble an interesting coterie of actors to play his testerone-overdosed leads. Bruce Willis plays John Hartigan, the cop whose story opens and closes the movie, and Willis’ face looks like he was born to play one of the denizens of Basin City. Willis’ stoic machismo covers a faulty heart too big for a town this corrupt–Hartigan might be the only character in the movie deserving of the “good guy” moniker. Mickey Rourke, on a work-release program from Career Purgatory, plays the hulking warrior Marv under a thick layer of makeup and prosthetics. Rourke’s particular brand of defiant machismo (and yes, I know I just used that word when talking about Willis; bear with me) captures the ferocity and righteous fury of the doomed Marv perfectly. Clive Owen plays Dwight, an ex-con trying to keep the peace in the hooker-controlled Old Town section of Basin City. Owen’s slick and charismatic machismo (see?) imbues his quest to stop an impending turf war with a sense of knight-in-dirty-armor chivalry.

Sin City (2005)
Grade: A-
Written and Directed By: Robert Rodriguez Frank Miller (based on his graphic novels)
Starring: Bruce Willis Mickey Rourke Clive Owen Jessica Alba Benicio Del Toro Rosario Dawson Elijah Wood Michael Clarke Duncan Brittany Murphy Alexis Bledel Powers Boothe Rutger Hauer …and more. Sheesh.
Studio: Dimension Films

The supporting actors all add to the film’s mood, including Elijah Wood as a creepy, silent psychopath, Michael Madsen as Hartigan’s partner and old-timers Powers Boothe and Rutger Hauer as a pair of megalomaniacal brothers who wield all of the power in Basin City. But I have to lavish special praise on Benicio Del Toro as the lecherous Jack Rafferty, the inadvertent catalyst for the war in Old Town. Del Toro adds a layer of menace to his usual intense, just-off-center persona to bring Rafferty to life–but it’s after Rafferty’s dead that Del Toro’s performance really takes off.

We can’t have all of this discussion of the guys without talking about the dolls, though–and what a collection of dolls they are. Jamie King and Carla Gugino both bare a lot of skin; Roger Ebert says that Sin City “uses nudity as if the 1970s had survived,” and he’s right–Rodriguez lets his camera take a luxurious soak in his actresses’ flesh. Devon Aoki plays the silent-but-deadly assassin Miho; Alexis Bledel can’t quite not look innocent and virtuous as the hooker Becky; Brittany Murphy remains as annoying as ever as Shelly, Dwight’s girlfriend.

Most of the talk about the women of Sin City will likely focus on fanboy favorite Jessica Alba, who is indeed gorgeous as Nancy, the stripper who holds Hartigan’s heart. But it’s Rosario Dawson as Gail, den mother to the prostitutes, who embodies everything Sin City’s about–she’s beauty and blood, sex and violence, attitude and danger on high heels. Dawson’s flawless skin plays perfectly with Rodriguez’ light; she’s one of Miller’s iconic chiaroscuro drawings come vividly to life.

Comparions between Sin City and Pulp Fiction are inevitable. Both are filled to the gills with flawed characters and stylized violence. Both have something of a circular and fragmented story structure, characters from one segment floating through the others. Pulp director Quentin Tarantino even directs a small segment of Sin City. One other comparison between the two movies needs to be noted: both are unlike anything that had been seen in the cinema before, and Sin City will likely prove to be quite influential, though perhaps not quite to the level of Pulp Fiction. A host of Sin City imitators will likely be hitting the screen within the next few years.

Sin City adapts only three of Miller’s graphic novels (plus one of his short stories tossed in as an appetizer). Given the speed with which Rodriguez works, if this movie’s a hit I’d imagine we’ll see Sin City 2 sometime in mid-to-late 2006. I’m looking forward to a return trip to the depths of Basin City.

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Written by Allen

April 3rd, 2005 at 3:57 am

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