By Vic Holtreman
Short version: A gritty, violent, and overall impressive film that may not go over big with the general public.
Wow… where to start with this review? To be honest I’m still not sure exactly how I feel about it. It’s one of those films that takes multiple viewings to really take it all in.
First off, folks, can you please leave the kids at home for this one? It’s rated R, and despite the use of color (or more accurately the lack of it), Sin City is not for the young ‘uns. If you simply have to see this, do me a favor and fork out a couple of bucks for the babysitter, would ‘ja please?
Sin City is based on a series of graphic novels written and illustrated by the great Frank Miller. For those of you unfamiliar with the world of comic books, he’s the guy that invigorated the Batman and Daredevil titles with his realistic, film noir, gritty approach to these titles. His most famous work is probably The Dark Knight series of graphic novels where he painted a picture of an aging, bitter Batman living in a dark, apocalyptic future. This was a new take on the Batman mythos: realistic, gritty, and showing the slightly psychotic side of a guy who dresses up in a batsuit to fight bad guys in the middle of the night.
I’m reviewing the from the perspective of the average viewer: someone who has never seen Miller’s original version of Sin City on paper. Whereas most comic book adaptations to film leave hardcore fanboys screaming in outrage (anyone remember the organic vs. mechanical Spiderman webshooter debate?), I sense that this is the exception to the rule. Frank Miller co-directed the film version of his creation with Robert Rodriguez and from what I’ve read online, and is evident on the screen, this is probably the most faithful book to screen adaptation to date.
Sin City is the dark side of New York city multiplied by one hundred. It’s a dark and scary place, where an honest police detective is an endangered species, prostitutes rule a part of town, and high ranking religious and political figures make Saddam Hussein look like a girl scout.
The film is actually a trilogy of sorts, following a brief period in the lives of three characters: Marv (my favorite performance in the film, played wonderfully by Mickey Rourke), an almost Frankenstein-looking man who has virtually limitless imperviousness to pain, and cruelty against those he feels deserve it. John Hartigan (Bruce Willis) the hard-boiled honest detective of which I spoke earlier). And finally Dwight (my second favorite performance, Clive Owen), who almost seems to be a handsome reincarnation of Marv.
The three stories are barely connected to each other… all they really share in common is the fact that they take place in Sin City, and the corruption of those on high. We have Marv, who due to his appearance has never experienced love or affection, who is on a quest for revenge when a beautiful prostitute who gave him what he’d never had is murdered quietly right next to him and he is framed for it. We then have Hartigan, suffering for maiming the child molester/murder son of a high ranking official… shot and sent to jail for these crimes and to save the life of the would-be last victim. Finally we have Dwight, a man with a dark (what else?) past who is out to keep the peace between the corrupt police and the hookers who have a decent life of sorts without being under the influence of pimps.
As I said, leave the kids home for this one.
The film is shot in black and white overall, with splashes of color here and there: A woman’s lips, her eyes, and sometimes blood. One of the things that took away from this movie for me was trying to figure out the “why” of the use of color… in some ways it made sense, but in others I was lost. Why was the blood in some parts of the film white, in others black, and in yet others red? Maybe I’m not bright enough, but I couldn’t discern the logic, beyond keeping the film from moving into NC-17 territory from the copious amounts of it spilling on the screen. Another thing was the spoken and voiceover dialogue: You absolutely had to buy into it early, or the thing came off as a parody (tribute?) to film noire of the 1940’s. Some of it was really over the top, almost daring you to say “Aw, c’mon!”. As to the tri-story aspect of it, I think I would have liked it more if either the three stories were a bit more connected to each other or if they had just concentrated fully on one of them.
My comment concerning the general public relates to the fact that this film compares to mainstream films the same way a Picasso compares to regular oil paintings: It’s very different, a bit hard to get, and you’ll either really like it or think it’s bizarre.
There were plenty of well-known actors in this film, although some of them were hard to recognize through their prosthetic makeup. For me, the stand out was Mickey Rourke as Marv… great character and an awesome performance by Rourke. I also enjoyed Clive Owen (rumoured to be the next James Bond), but another one that really jumped out at me was Elijah Wood as a stealthy, cannibal killer. One word for the character and his performance: CREEPY. I don’t know… maybe having Wood seared into my skull as Frodo from Lord of the Rings made the counterpoint more intense. In any case, I was riveted by his performance.
In conclusion, despite a lot of what I said above, if you aren’t put off by the gory violence and more nudity than one might expect from this movie, artistically it has a lot going for it. I’m giving it due to the performances and the style of the film.