Sin City

I don’t know how much money there is in writing graphic novels but I hope that Frank Miller makes enough to afford a nice house in the country. He’s definitely not a fan of the urban lifestyle. His depiction of Gotham City in Batman Year One and the Dark Knight Returns is hellish and bleak, offering very little hope that the ills of innercity crime will ever go away.

So it is in Basin City, a sprawling cancer of a burg that, like Gotham, doesn’t seem to have any nice neighborhoods and it’s always night. The cops are currupt and the streets are run by brutal criminals who rise to the top of their professions through sheer ruthlessness. Anyone with a moral code-and in this setting morality is relative-has to take at least a few steps on the dark side. This is Sin City’s appeal.

Robert Rodriguez, who co-directed with Miller himself and Quentin Taratino, has taken three stories from Miller’s graphic novels and intertwined them. Their watchword was fidelity to the source material. Every element in this film strives to re-create the comic book experience. Most of it is in black and white with splashes of color for emphasis. Consequently, Sin City is grim, gritty and highly stylized. Some of the images here will stay with you for a long time. The acting is over the top; the script is full of melodramatic narration, and hokey dialog that I think was meant to be funny. And the sensibility is strictly adolescent. At some point in all three of these stories, the “hero” gets to a point where he has nothing to lose, so he reaches for a gun or an ax or a blunt knife and does something antisocial. It appeals to that troubled kid in all of us who wants to blow away everybody who’s ever ticked us off.

The performances are mostly good if you account for the fact that the actors are working in a classic 40’s noir style with a 21st century taste for graphic violence. Bruce Willis is himself, only amped up about a hundred times. Clive Owen is in his cool mode that makes everybody wish he could be the next Bond. But the real revelation here is Mickey Roarke, who plays Marv. Looking like a steroid addicted Kirk Douglas, Marv is a mean giant who is emotionally vulnerable. He does some terrible things in the film but only to people who deserve it. He also gets the best line in the movie, “I love hitmen. You can do anything you want to them and not feel bad about it later.” You don’t want to get on Marv’s bad side.

This film can be compared to many other films. It has the black humor of Pulp Fiction; some of the make-up calls to mind Dick Tracy. It’s also the second films to be shot entirely in front of a green screen with the backgrounds added in later by computer, like Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. But Sin City is it’s own film. There’s never been anything exactly like it. It’s a darkly beautiful film that appeals to the ugly side of our natures.

Most of all, it is pure Frank Miller.


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April 2005
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