Sin City (Review)

2005

124 min

United States

Director: Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller (Guest Director: Quentin Tarantino)

Writer: Frank Miller

Stars: Bruce Willis, Clive Owen, Mickey Rourke

Release Date: April 1, 2005


Sin City has a remarkable knack for the making the wretched subject matter an absolute marvel Behold, one of the greatest adaptations in all of cinema.

"Walk down the right back alley in Sin City... and you can find anything." In the early '90s Frank Miller began publishing the first stories in what would become a 7-book graphic novel series. They went under the collective name of Sin City, pulpy narratives featuring a dejected detective, a jealous boyfriend, an assassin turned hooker (or is it the other way around?) and a beast of a man named Marv - and those are just the "good guys." The stories were brought to life by minimalist black-and-white sketchings. On the page one could learn about the city by learning about its denizens. Now that it has been adapted to the screen, we get see the city like never before: the high-rises of The Projects, the alleyways of Old Town, the Docks and the Farm "outside of town." This is Basin City (a hodgepodge of Vegas, Baton Rouge and Los Angeles), but someone scratched out the "BA" on the sign a long time ago...

I found it necessary to cite the book(s) because they act as the both the script and the storyboard for this film. There may not be a more faithful adaptation under the sun. I like to imagine all the cast and crew holding copies of Miller's novels on set, blocking each shot, rehearsing lines, dreaming up what the finished result would look like. In an unprecedented move, filmmaker Robert Rodriguez had Miller on set throughout the making of the film. The two share a directing credit on the film.

Sin City fills in the blanks left open from Miller's artwork. It would be a mistake to refer to this as a black-and-white film. While there are stunning instances where it literally has white silhouettes on a 2D plane of black shadows, the majority of the film exists in a fabricated palette somewhere between those poles. Occasionally, the film allows us sips from the crayon box: Goldie's appropriately colored hair, a certain vixen's eyes or a mouthful of blood thrown in for good measure. They're not symbols like the red coat in Schindler's List, they're significant reminders of details we recall in a grey world that's only growing more grey. 

Stylistically, there's nothing else out there like Sin City. It was instantly iconic in 2005 and remains so to this day. It will stand the test of time where other green screen and CG-sewn projects will not and have not. It took full advantage of the technology and walked well away from realism. That is what made all the difference. Some heinous acts go down in Sin City, but its style is the degree of separation that keeps it from being repulsive. It even manages to be cool.

At its core, Sin City is a neo-noir. It's the characters more so than the presentation that earn this classification. The moody head-talk that leads us through the night (come to think of it, the sun never seems to shine) are both odes and dramatic left turns from classics of the genre. The stories take on an investigative nature, all inevitably ending in a confrontative climax. And it's the women, always the women, that drive them forward - literally so in The Hard Goodbye.

With such concrete visuals and jackhammer dialogue, the performances would seemingly decrease in importance. And yet, Mickey Rourke, Bruce Willis, Clive Owen, Benicio del Toro and Nick Stahl give the material their all. Rourke and del Toro are rendered nearly unrecognizable by the make-up effects and come off shocking like their graphic novel counterparts. Each character is utterly unforgettable, even if you want to shed your memory of Stahl as "the Yellow Bastard," you won't be able to. The women seem to be cast for other reasons than acting and at times that becomes quite apparent. Still, I daresay that this is the best performance of Jessica Alba's career.

What will you find if you walk down this alley into Sin City? A bleak story of men and the women they'll fight tooth and nail to protect. A unique fusion of visions that made the impossible feat of translating a page to the screen possible. Prostitutes, corrupt politicians, cannibals, eye-gouging, white rain, slow-motion glass and tar pits. There's more than one scene wherein an ugly face gets shoved into a toilet, but something like that has never looked so beautiful.

An old man dies. A young woman lives. A fair trade. I love you, Nancy.
— John Hartigan