Jessica Alba as Nancy and Nick Stahl as the Yellow Bastard on the green-screen set and in the final film of Dimension Films' Sin City - 2005
Photo Copyright Dimension Film
Try as I might, it is difficult to describe the way I felt upon leaving Sin City Saturday afternoon. Revved up? Repulsed? Worn out? Ready for more? How about all at the same time? Sin City is a pure rush, with all that that statement implies. If ever a movie took a premise to the ultimate end, this one is it - film noir to the nth degree, leaving no good (or bad) deed unpunished and nothing left to the imagination.
Created as a stark, nightmarish comic book vision by comic book visionary Frank Miller, Sin City reaches deep down into the depths of human depravity and finds both the vilest and the noblest that man has to offer. In Robert Rodriguez's able but blood-soaked hands, three separate comic books become three intertwined episodes of the same overreaching story. In a sense, they are all about the same thing. A deeply flawed yet deeply noble man goes through Hell to either save or avenge the woman he loves. Along the way, he gamely wreaks every brutality imaginable upon an endless stream of the worst of the worst. And in the end, in the wake of a huge mound of dead bad guys, our hero takes the fall, the ultimate act of self-sacrifice. It's every teenage boy's hero fantasy with the volume turned way up. In the first story, Bruce Willis is Hartigan, a beat down cop with a bum ticker on the trail of sleazy child molester. Problem is, this sicko is the son of a local bigwig, connected and protected. But that won't stop Hartigan from handing out bloody retribution. Episode two tells the sad tale of Marv, a big lug with an even bigger heart. Marv has a face not even a mother could love, and life consists of one sad, often violent, rejection after another. Until Goldie. Goldie, a working girl with a tender touch who made Marv feel whole again. But only for a while. They killed her, and Marv'll do what he has to do to find the ones that did it, even if he has to cut his way to the top of the food chain. The third story gives us over to Dwight - as crazy as he is deadly. Dwight's hands are anything but clean, but he'll be damned if he's going to let the abusive weasel Jackie Boy beat up on his girl. But our hero may have to stand in line to settle the score, because Jackie and his crew are headed to Old Town, where the girls who walk the streets exercise their own brand of bloody justice. Anything can, and often does, happen in Sin City.
Sin City is a fascinating mix of contradictions. Within the repulsion of its graphic violence and merciless retribution lies a very attractive proposition - justice. Pure, unadulterated justice. The wicked are punished, and punished hard. And yet, in a society such as ours, with our condemnation of Abu Ghraib and our emphasis on human rights, can we endorse such sadistic portrayals of torture? Or maybe it is in this artform that we can exorcise that id demon within ourselves, leaving us more able to embrace our better angels. Or maybe we just like a good shoot-em-up.
Interesting as the moral implications of a film like this are, what really drew me was the look. Miller, a comic book touchstone, had been approached many times over the years about making a film version of his classic series, but had always rejected the offers. But when Robert Rodriguez came along and proved that an honest and true adaptation was what he was after, Miller was sold. The result is one of the most meticulously constructed page to screen transformations in Hollywood history. Bringing Miller on board as co-director, a move that cost Rodriguez his membership in the Director's Guild, Sin City is literally a comic book come to life. The dialogue snaps right from the page, a style that is slightly off-putting at first, though you quickly get used to it. Each scene feels as though it could be, and probably is, taken directly from one of Miller's panels. And the stark black and white, with only occasional splashes of crimson and ochre, serves the noir comic feel perfectly. Shot nearly completely on green screen in big empty studios, Sin City achieves what Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow unfortunately was unable to: a period CG animated feature with real actors and an engrossing plot. Maybe if Jude Law had cut off a few more limbs.
One of the other big draws to a film like this one, particularly one done by Rodriguez or Quentin Tarantino, is the number of stars involved. It seems as though everyone in the business wants to work with these guys, and I can see why. But if you're going to this movie to see Josh Hartnett or Jessica Alba, just remember - it's a true ensemble piece. Everyone gets their turn to soak the screen in blood. The real question is: can you stand to watch that screen for two full hours? It'd be a sin to miss this City, but there's a good chance it's a sin to watch it too. Grade: A-
Sin City is rated R for language, sexual situations, nudity, and graphic, sadistic, and brutal violence. Often all in the same scene.
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