Review: “Sin City”

Visually stunning, graphically morbid and slavishly loyal to its pulp origins, “Sin City” is the most accurate adaptation ever done of a comic book with shots not only exactly resembling their comic counterparts but a visual style that’s both unique and yet totally in line with its originator. The comics and resulting movie contain all the hallmarks of film noir – moody city skylines and poorly-lit locations, hokey dialogue, silly caricatures of gruff no-nonsense men and smart voluptuous women, and so forth – but mixes it with an excessive stylized type of violence and in this case the odd splash of colour to add an unusual tone to the mix.

Thus the film itself comes designed perfectly for its target demographic – comic geeks and macho straight males in their teens and twenties. It’s the ultimate college crowd movie, designed for worshippers at the altar of Tarantino (who funnily enough ‘guest directs’), violent Japanese action movies, and pre-American John Woo cinema. It’s the world’s biggest collegiate circle jerk and everyone’s invited to lend a hand. Whilst all audiences will appreciate the atmosphere and look of the movie, many will have great difficulty with the sheer level of violence on-screen which, whilst not too bloody, is nevertheless brutal and takes great pleasure in how twisted it gets with elements ranging from massacres, cannibalism, and castration all shown almost lovingly on display. Combine this with more female ass I’ve seen on screen than I’ve ever seen in real life and you’ll quickly understand which crowd this is built for.

Whilst they will lap it up like honey from one of the many big-breasted gun-toting hookers in this story, the rest of us will either appreciate or despise what Director Robert Rodriguez has delivered. The Austin-based filmmaker is an innovative director no question who knows how to do action superbly and deliver a visual punch like hardly anyone else. Yet like most of his work there’s a sacrifice of good scripting in favour of harder core violence or visual trickery. In trying to show off how much style he can bring to the film, he forgets the substance along the way. A lot of that though is not his fault as pulpy film noir by its very nature is hammy, repetitive and cliched in the extreme.

After kicking off with a badly delivered ‘prologue’ scene for a later tale, the anthology movie starts its first and easily best of three stories involving a heavily made up Mickey Rourke hunting down the person responsible for killing a hooker who just shared his bed. Rourke plays Marv, a man with a face only a mother could love, who has essentially accepted his bad lot in life. When the one person who lends him a sympathetic ear in this world gets killed, he takes off to avenge her death by any means necessary.

In a film populated with thin and despicable characters, it’s easy to sympathise with and like this guy for his assertiveness, loyalty and emotion. Maybe it’s the fact that Rourke appears to be the only one who’s playing the film with a glint of humour in his eye, maybe its the dark storyline of which Patricia Highsmith would be proud, all of it adds together to create a 45 minute segment that’s interesting, moody, twisted and ultimately poignant. It’s a high standard set early that the film never reaches again.

The second segment involving Clive Owen and a bunch of deadly hookers in a turf war is an interesting setup but ultimately feels tired. Owen himself delivers his usual superb work which never falters even with some atrocious dialogue. Most of the girls do alright (Murphy though stands out like a sore thumb), Dawson and Aoki holding their own nicely. It’s a decent little piece that runs all too long and ultimately leads nowhere.

It stands above the film’s final and worst tale in which Bruce Willis tries to protect Jessica Alba from a bald yellow madman. Featuring some rather awkward tie backs to Marv’s story, this is the most derivative and least interesting of the three pieces and will have you checking your watch. Neither Willis or Alba bring anything to the table, and even the usually solid Stahl feels hamstrung by the story.

The production values are superb, especially with the mix of stark silhouette flashes, moody computer-generated vistas and occasional use of colour. There’s sex and nudity but its more for fetish appeal than anything erotic. The excessive violence is done purely for exploitation rather than any real substantive reason.

It’s a project that’s crying out to say “look at me, I’m cool” but lacks any real hutzpah to back up that claim – no matter how you may dress it up, cheese is still cheese. Maybe if Rodriguez had tried to take Miller’s material in an interesting new direction there could’ve been a classic in here, if only the writing could’ve matched the visuals in innovation. Nevertheless in a lacklustre year of filmmaking, this easily stands above the crowd as being the best film of the year so far.