Sin City

19th October 2005
Movie Poster reviewer: Nish
directed by: Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez
written by: Frank Miller
starring: Jessica Alba, Devon Aoki, Alexis Bledel, Benicio Del Toro
genre: Action, Crime, Drama, Thriller
released: 3rd June 2005

Comics continue to be hot property in Hollywood with a number of adaptations of varying quality released this year and some still on the way. Thatís not to mention the slew of sequels in the pipeline for all those made good first time around. Itís not difficult to suss why theyíre so popular with movie studios either Ė a ready-made fan base more or less guarantees a healthy box office take.

Sin City resides within that quarter of the comic book world labelled graphic novels. When the term first emerged it seem to point to material that was darker, deeper and far removed from the throwaway world of comics. Of course many graphic novels are simply the collected episodes of longer stories that first appeared in monthly publications. The Sin City film follows the same principle with three interconnecting episodes forming the narrative; further episodes have already been chosen to make up the inevitable sequel.

Creator Frank Miller is perhaps best known for revitalising Batman with arguably the definitive origins story (Batman: Year One) but also dared to imagine Gothamís guardian as a tired albeit still vengeful old man (The Dark Knight Returns). Heís taken the unusual step of becoming joint director for the adaptation of Sin City alongside Robert Rodriguez, whose recent work big screen work has been the Spy Kids movies.

Basin CityÖSin CityÖitís the sort of place that cries out for hardboiled monologues to be spoken at every street corner lamppost; where you drink head down in dingy, smoky dens (I know Ė it doesnít sound too bad); where corruption has blurred the black and white of the police into grey; and where life is cheaper than a pack of cigarettes and you donít get change either.

In Sin City an aged cop like Hartigan (Bruce Willis) tries to make a difference even though the odds are stacked against him. Heading towards retirement, his thoughts are more concerned with tackling a steak dinner at home with his wife rather than another case. Yet Hartigan canít let go not when thereís a sicko out there preying on kids. No one else gives a goddamn because the perp has connections, but what can one old man do?

If the good guys get chewed up in Sin City what about the baddies? Take Marv (Mickey Rourke), a veteran tough whose face has more creases than a cheap suit and his body is more battered than a Vauxhall Astra parked overnight in a sink estate. Love donít come easy to Marv so when that special something happens unexpectedly with a girl one night and sheís later murdered in the same bed...well, he takes it personal. He might not have the muscle to take down a country (ooh! getting political here!), but heís determined to find the killer and dish out his own version of justice. Naturally, this being Sin City a lot more than a few harmless bugs come scurrying out when Marv starts poking in dark corners.

Dwight has no problem when it comes to his looks. He decided to lie low for a while and have plastic surgery; he now looks like Clive Owen and even sounds like Clive Owen (guess what? It is Clive Owen!). Heís got himself a new girl, Shellie (Brittany Murphy), but sheís got ex-boyfriend troubles in the form of Jackie Boy (Benicio Del Toro). Just because youíre a criminal it doesnít mean you canít be a gentleman so Dwight puts the squeeze on Jackie Boy and sends him packing. But despite the pathetic bully-boy exterior, Jackie actually boasts some clout in Sin City and that can only mean trouble for Dwight.

Sin City is a stunning spectacle, one thatís more likely to leave you reeling as if smacked by its visual brilliance. The look is as clean and crisp as the pages of a new comic book and it uses all manner of tricks and effects to add extra Ďoomphí to the style. Shot in monochrome it uses splashes of vivid colour at times Ė the enticing emerald of a womanís eyes, the shock crimson of spilt blood and the putrid yellow of perversion. Colour is used sparingly, though, or else the screen would be awash in shades of red such is the visceral nature of the stories. At times it seems almost random rather than the highlights or signposts you might suspect colour to be used for.

The stories themselves are mixed in their quality. Marvís episode stands out although itís probably the most simple and clichť-ridden Ė a foolís crusade for what is right. It makes up for it, though, by being smart, engaging and certainly the most technically inventive segment of the film. Marvís exploits and mule-headedness when it comes to taking a beating will leave you cheering; itís a wonderful return for Rourke to the big screen.

Dwightís story although featuring some impressively gruesome mutilation is a humdrum affair even with the much talked about scene directed by Quentin Tarantino (a result of a bargain between him and Rodriguez after the latter helped score Kill Bill Vol 2). Hartiganís tale resonates more perhaps because of the unpleasant nature of one of the characters, the repulsive Yellow Bastard and his sickening lust.

Perhaps the most significant criticism to be made about Sin City is that you cannot quite escape the feeling that the cast (and itís impressive in size and quality) is acting out scenes from a comic book. Despite the lashings of blood you donít really get a sense that thereís a heart beating within the picture. Nevertheless this is certainly a must-see film; itíll probably knock you sideways but donít be surprised if it leaves you wanting.