Sin City (2005, Frank Miller/Robert Rodriguez)
Frank Miller is one of my favorite visual artists in any medium, and Robert Rodriguez has continued to impress me since I saw El Mariachi in a high school Spanish class (thank you, Sra. Bradford!), so I will admit right away that you are not going to get a purely objective review of Sin City from me.
But even still, I was blown away by this movie.
This is by far the best looking film I’ve ever seen, and since it’s going to be compared to Kill Bill anyway, I might as well go ahead and say that like that picture, between heaping doses of gore and lines that stand somewhere between classic and cliche, Sin City has an actual heart.
You can’t help but love Marv (Mickey Rourke), the big lug with a taste for designer overcoats and a handgun named Gladys, but a heart literally full of gold–Goldie (Jaime King), that is. Hartigan (Bruce Willis) is the hero cop with just enough moral conflict to make him human, and Dwight (Clive Owen) may be the least archetypal of the three male leads, and the most human–his motives are loyalty rather than some woman on a pedestal. And speaking of women, they definitely get to share in the fun as well as play damsel in distress. They are assassins (Rosario Dawson as Gail, Devon Aoki as Miho), prostitutes (Alexis Bledel as Becky, Patricia Vonne as Dallas), waitresses (Brittany Murphy as Shellie) and parole officers (Carla Gugino as Lucille), and of course, the visual centerpiece of the film, the exotic dancer Nancy (Jessica Alba).
There are villains aplenty, of course. Rutger Hauer does his best Marlon Brando impression as Cardinal Roark, and Elijah Wood is silently creepy as Kevin, while Powers Boothe hams it up as Senator Roark and Nick Stahl gets to similarly chew scenery as Junior and The Yellow Bastard (literally, blindingly yellow, like a nuclear experiment). Benicio Del Toro provides probably the most memorable bad guy, Jackie Boy, and his faceoff with Clive Owen is possibly the high point of the film.
There’s more to this film than even great ensemble casting (Josh Hartnett and Marley Shelton round out the top-billed crowd) and stylized gore, though. It’s worth the price of admission just for the visuals–the color overlays in one car scene with Del Toro and Owen have been playing through my head ever since, and the strategic coloring of just certain characters’ eyes helps to play up subtler acting than the sometimes heavy-handed dialogue would lead you to expect.
Rodriguez is a huge proponent of high-definition digital video, and I can’t argue with his logic after seeing what he can do with it. Every line in an actor’s face, every slight movement, every shadow and light patch and every prosthetic used to manipulate a well-known face into comic hyperreality serves a purpose, and Rodriguez and Miller, working straight from Miller’s own artwork, have really set out to push the limits of their tools. The result is a world that has the feel of a comic–black and white with splashes of color, gritty and dirty but beautiful even in the ugliness of Marv’s face and the ultraviolence of the villains (and heroes).
The end result is that rare thing: a comic book movie as true to the book as any fanboy (or girl!) could ask, as rich and lush and innovative as a film lover could hope for, and still a great popcorn movie for everyone who wouldn’t know an HD camera if it hit them upside the head and who never even thought about picking up a comic book.
Sin City’s world is dark and dirty and bloody, but I urge everyone to take the trip there in any case. I’ll definitely be going back for more.