Starring: Bruce Willis, Mickey Rourke, Clive Owen, Jessica Alba,
Rosario Dawson, Brittany Murphy, Alexis Bledel, Jaime King, Nick Stahl,
Michael Madsen, Josh Hartnett, Carla Gugino, Benicio Del Toro, Powers
Booth, Rutger Hauer, Devon Aoki, Michael Clarke Duncan, Elijah Wood.
Directed By: Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller.
Special Guest Director: Quentin Tarantino
Synopsis: The translation to live action of some of Frank Miller’s iconic Sin City comics/graphic novels.
There is only one word for this film – awesome. There is also
only one word for director Robert Rodriguez – genius. ‘Sin City’,
as a piece of filmmaking, is more exciting than most of the films that
have graced our movie screens at least the last 10 years, perhaps even
longer. I think Rodriguez and his counterparts have
revolutionised genre filmmaking with this single offering in such a way
that his style will be copied ceaselessly, similarly to the Wachowski
brothers and their seminal film ‘The Matrix’. To be perfectly
frank, this is the culmination of a great deal of promising material
from Rodriguez, who has in my opinion, failed to fully realise his
vision in his past works. ‘Sin City’ puts this all behind
him. In fact, should Rodriguez never produce another film of this
calibre during the rest of his career, he will still be tagged a genius
for this movie alone. In fact this could be his Harper Lee “To
Kill a Mockingbird’ moment. If he never released a film again,
this would stand as a testament to his talent.
‘Sin City’ is based on the Frank Miller graphic novels ‘Sin City’,
‘That Yellow Bastard’ and ‘The Big Fat Kill’. This iconic series
of comics have legions of fans and it is easy to see why.
Featuring pulpy noir-ish story telling coupled with superb artwork,
these novels are engaging in a way that so much other published
material fails to be. I cannot claim to be au fait with Miller’s
work and I haven’t read any of the Sin City novels but I think that the
translation of the material to the screen is certainly first rate –
particularly as Miller has a co-director credit in the film.
Lets talk cinematography. I don’t think I have even seen a
director take such chances with black and white, light and shadow and
the medium of film since Orson Welles’ ‘Citizen Kane’. ‘Sin City’
is ‘Citizen Kane’ on methamphetamine when it comes to
cinematography. It is a moving comic book, with some of the shots
surely lifted straight from the graphic novels themselves.
Rodriguez & Miller use black and white in the main while
judiciously employing colour to punctuate the story. I was so
engrossed in the look of the film that I almost was disappointed to
return to a world that used the entire colour spectrum. The
lighting was delicious. With certain shots so eerily similar to
an illustration that physical movement in the shot was
disconcerting. Film noir aficionados will surely weep to see such
brilliant use of shadow.
The art direction was equally as satisfying. Rodriquez employed a
mix of the modern and the vintage ensuring that the stories film noir
roots were pleasingly referenced, making me feel that I could have just
as easily been watching noir classics like “The Big Sleep’ , ‘Double
Indemnity’ or ‘The Third Man’. Some of the set pieces were
brilliant in their simplicity. Hartigans cell sticks in my mind,
particularly the overhead shots which played with the perspective and
elongated the cage making seem as if it was a pit. I also liked
the use of visual effects, particularly the way certain objects were
overexposed and almost fluorescent (in the way that white glows under
an ultraviolet light), which reduced them to echoes of the 2D images
from the graphic novels. For instance Becky’s jewellery, the
bandages on Marv’s face and the glowing lenses of Kevin’s
glasses. Oh, and the representation of rain was stunning, giving
the film the texture of a graphic novel. It was like Miller
himself was inking the raindrops in as they fell across the screen.
There is no doubt that this movie is the successful expression of Frank
Miller’s creative genius. The source material is so robust and
his demand that the movie stay faithful to it has resulted in a perfect
fusion of genre’s and art forms. Obviously Rodriguez’s past work
was a deciding factor in Millers agreement to hand over his work for
adaptation to the big screen. Rodriguez’s ability to slam genre’s
together and make the resulting hybrid work as a film has been
developing with each successive project he has worked on. Take
‘From Dusk Till Dawn’ as an example. This is your typical road
movie which takes a right hand turn into vampire territory.
Certainly a flawed movie, possibly because the genre’s just didn’t
adhere as well as they should have to sustain the narrative, but it was
ambitious and entertaining and foreshadowed a formidable storytelling
So lets get down to brass tacks and discuss performances. Sin
City could have been an technically interesting pile of crap were it
not for the terrific performances of the cast. This film almost
comes close to having a cast of thousands. Kudos to the casting
director that they lined up such great actors to play all the
roles. As the film is split into three stories, you have a full
cast for each, with some cross over between stories by the significant
characters. The first story is about Marv, a hulking street
fighter who seeks to exact vengeance for the murder of ‘Goldie’, the
prototypical tart with a heart, who is murdered in his bed while he
sleeps. Marv has a face that looks as if it has been carved out
of granite and is played with great aplomb and gusto by that denizen of
the C grade movie, Mickey Rourke. Now love him or hate him it is
undeniable that he is great at Marv. From his throaty voice over
to the shambling gait of this monster of a man, Mickey Rourke totally
in habits this character. It is a real pleasure to see him
capitalise on some of his talent. His Marv is tough as
nails, completely willing to slaughter whoever stands between him
and his ability to revenge the death of his beloved Goldie. I
think Marv is my favourite character as his story, while littered with
the corpses of those who opposed him, is about an act of love.
The second story, which is split into two parts and bookends the third
and final story in terms of narrative structure, is about Hartigan – a
cop only ‘minutes away from retirement’. Bruce Willis plies his
usual stock-in-trade as the incorruptible cop. His performance is
less impressive that that of Mickey Rourke, although still good.
Placing his life on the line to save an 11 year old girl, Hartigan is
the epitome of the cop who will stop at nothing to protect the
innocent. Willis traverses familiar ground here as the stoic
Hartigan, who demonstrates a level of self control unknown to the
common man when he resists the advances of the lovely Nancy (Jessica
Alba). Nick Stahl has a dual role here as Roark Jr. and the
‘Yellow Bastard’. He is basically unrecognisable as the Yellow
Bastard and his comeuppance is grotesque.
Rounding out the trio of leading men is Clive Owen who plays the
mysterious Dwight. An avenger of brutalised women Dwight becomes
entangled in the murder of a cop played by Benicio Del Toro.
Dwight finds he has to help the ‘ladies’ of Old Town avoid being taken
over by the mob after they dispatch the cop and his thug friends.
Owen continues his golden run of roles with Dwight. He is well
cast in this role and manages a good balance between hero and villain.
His scenes in the car with Benicio Del Toro are particularly funny and
his voice over has some of the best lines in the film.
Much will be made of the women in Sin City. Firstly a la the
graphic novel tradition they all tend to have the proportions of an
exotic dancer – even those of them that aren’t strippers or
prostitutes. So there is plenty for the eyes to feast on,
particularly in Old Town where all the hookers strut their stuff.
Jessica Alba is delicious as the grown up Nancy. She looks great
as a blonde when shot in black and white (unlike her turn as a blonde
in the Fantastic Four – most ill advised). Her tough but
vulnerable heroine is very watchable, not just because she is easy on
the eyes. Alexis Bledel liberates herself from being squeaky
clean Rory Gilmory of the Gilmore Girls to play the treacherous
Becky. Miller and Rodriguez leave the colour in Bledel’s eyes to
great effect. Carla Gugino is underused but enjoyable as Marv’s
lesbian probation officer Lucille. What a change from her role as
the mum in the Spy Kids franchise. Devon Aoki (previously seen in
‘2 Fast 2 Furious’) is entertaining as the deadly assassin, Miho.
In fact the sequences with Miho are very bloody but lots of fun.
Finally Rosario Dawson is fantastic as Gail. Resplendent in her
mesh and leather fetish wear, she stalks about the screen like a
lioness scenting a kill. She is described by Dwight as a valkyrie
and she is indeed a fearsome warrior of a woman. I think I
enjoyed her character as much as I enjoyed the brutal Marv.
Look out for Rutger Hauer as Cardinal Roark. He has a small role
but it is good to see him on screen again. I almost didn’t
recognise him with a bald head. Elijah Woods plays Kevin – a
character I can only describe as, well, a ninja cannibal. I know,
it sounds far fetched, but he is downright creepy in this role and a
thousand miles away from the amiable furry footed Frodo Baggins.
Josh Hartnett has what seems to me a rather pointless role as ‘The
Man’. However I may be biased as I am not a Josh Hartnett fan by
and large. Powers Booth is good as the corrupt Senator Rourke,
father of the repulsive Roark Jr.
Finally, be aware that this movie is a smorgasbord of violence.
It absolutely pulls no punches and it can be downright gory to the
point that the majority of the audience I saw the movie with openly
groaned at some points (myself included). There is humour in this
film (gallows humour mostly), but it in no way diminishes the sequences
that contain real brutality. Parts of this film made me flinch
but I just could not look away. I was too entranced in the world
of Sin City. I was immersed in the supercharged character
archetypes that seemed to be ink turned into flesh. What a
vicarious pleasure to inhabit the world of these creatures of a dark
and dirty metropolis, where good guys can be stone cold killers and all
the women look like a million bucks. I can only hope for two
things in the wake of this film. Firstly, filmmakers will take
Rodriquez’s lead and start pushing the boundaries in what they try and
deliver to the screen. Secondly that this is the first
instalment in a successful franchise. Miller has stories left to