Robert Rodriguez's masterpiece Sin City is a stylized montage of violence mixed with art and sex appeal in possibly the greatest action film of the 21st century. Based on the graphic novels by Frank Miller, this is truly a film that anyone who can appreciate true art will enjoy.
The film follows three stories, that of police officer Hartigan (Bruce Willis), ex-con in pursuit of revenge Marv (Mickey Rourke), and murderer with a new face Dwight (Clive Owen). Although the stories never intersect, the characters involved are present in all three as well as secondary characters important to the story lines.
Hartigan is an honest cop in a force filled with corruption. After saving eleven-year-old Nancy Callahan from Senator Roark's child molester son Junior, he is shot in the back by his partner (Michael Madsen) and set up by the Senator to take the fall for his son in the rape of young Nancy.
Marv is a mean-looking thug who has just had the night of his life with a beautiful girl named Goldie (Jamie King). During the sleep after the copulation someone sneaked into the room and killed Goldie. It's obvious that this murder was a frame job, as the police are arriving before anyone could know that Goldie has been killed. There's a great fight scene where Marv takes out multiple cops, and he starts on his voyage of revenge to find Goldie's killer.
Dwight is a wanted killer who has returned to Basin City with a new face to resume his life. When his new girlfriend's (Brittany Murphy) ex-lover Jackie Boy (Benicio Del Toro) comes by with his crew and roughs her up, Dwight decides to follow them through town to make sure that they don't kill any innocent women. He follows them into Old Town, which is run by the hookers. The girls have already got their eye on Jackie Boy and his friends, and when he pulls a gun out on one of them they let them have it. Unfortunately Jackie Boy is a cop, and if it is found out by the police that a cop has been killed in Old Town the truce between the girls and the police will be nullified and Old Town will be left open to be taken over by the pimps and the mob.
Sin City is really a masterpiece of modern filmmaking. The usage of very few colors on a mostly black and white screen is almost like watching a painting in motion. The way the black and white and colors are used also brings the ultra violence and gore down to a very subdued level. What would normally be almost unwatchable due to its extremity is brought down to a very watchable level where even people who loathe violence in films are able to handle it.
It takes a few minutes to get used to the way Sin City is written and acted. For the first ten minutes or so I always catch myself thinking that the acting is very poor and the script badly written; however, once you get used to it, it works very well. The stiffness of some of the performances and the novel-like way in which the script is written really ends up working in favor of the film. It goes along so well with the colors (or lack thereof) and the direction that it adds to the style of the film.
The cast of Sin City is really incredible. It is just packed with big names and A-listers; from Jessica Alba to Elijah Wood, Alexis Bledel to Josh Hartnett, and Rosario Dawson to Rutger Hauer. While not all of their performances are stunning, it's not great performances that make this movie what it is. It is the art direction by Steve Joyner and Jeanette Scott, and the direction and editing by Robert Rodriguez that make this film so great. Sin City is really the film that established Rodriguez as a great director, and I personally can't wait for the sequels to come out.
The movie is stylish, shot in the noir style. There are moments of color for added emphasis, and it's used in interesting ways at interesting times. The strict adherence to the graphic novel does make for some kind of distracting stylistic elements on screen once in a while; what works beautifully on the page sometimes looks weird when watching it live. The white blood, for example, or a pair of glasses that have white lenses...those things can take you out of the moment, unless you know the graphic novel and recognize those images, in which case it's pretty cool.
You certainly don't have to know Frank Miller's work to appreciate Sin City. If you like your entertainment extra-dark, you'll love this one. Squirmish people might not be able to take it. If you only know Frank Miller for his work on Batman ("The Dark Knight Returns") you should be aware that Sin City makes Batman's actions in that book seem like the Boy Scouts. Okay, maybe that's a bad example given the recent troubles with the Boy Scouts...let's say Sunday School. No...wait a second...the church doesn't have such a clean track record either...let's go with Sin City makes Batman's actions in that book seem like Barney the Dinosaur playing hopscotch. By the way, don't let "comic book" confuse you. This ain't Superman. No tights here. It's not comical, either, though there are some funny moments (if you like dark humor).
The movie was shot on a green screen (like Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow), the only difference being that Sin City doesn't suck. The computer graphics aren't perfect, though, and a few scenes are noticeably computer generated, which can take you out of the moment. For example, a car chase looks great until the cars fly through the air and land looking a lot more like an Xbox(tm) game than a noir thriller.
The acting was great across the board. The highlight has to be Mickey Rourke's portrayal of Marv, the psychotic killer with a big heart. Bruce Willis and Benicio Del Toro (whose name is Spanish for "Benicio Del Bull") are both fabulous as well. Jessica Alba is surprisingly good and unbelievably hot (two good attributes to have). Clive Owen is the only main character that seems to be a little less believable in the hard-boiled tough guy department. He's solid, but he doesn't have the convincing look in his eye of "look at me again and I'll kill you." He should have spent more time dealing with his local DMV. Michael Madsen didn't bring much to the table; but he didn't have a major role. Nick Stahl (Terminator 3) did a fine job, as did Brittany Murphy. Elijah Wood uses his creepy, cold, lifeless stare perfectly in this movie, too.
The stories in Sin City aren't terribly complex, but the characters are interesting. However, they do on the surface appear to be motivated by the same things -- power or revenge, primarily. It is deeper than that, though, and there are nice twists for each character that seeks justice.
This is a movie that people will absolutely love, or absolutely hate. I absolutely love it.
Dripping with style, Sin City is a unique visual feast that thrills, although the insatiable nature of the graphic violence may deter some. Robert Rodriguez's distinctive work bears his hallmark, as it allows Frank Miller's graphic novel to burst into life on the big screen. Everything is oversize - from the nature of the characters to the ferocity of the violence. Black and white images startle with occasional lashings of red. In the attention-grabbing opening sequence when we first glimpse Sin City, a man and a woman are about to embrace. Her lips are scarlet and the dress she wears is one a nice girl would not. But we are given no time to reflect - very quickly the scene is over and we are immersed in a string of action sequences which flow into a narrative. The harshness of red is often a startling slash in otherwise black and white scenes of violence, although blood is not uniquely portrayed as red.
This is a film of extremes. Even the weather is of the all-sorts variety and men and women are stereotypical. The men are as tough as nails, while the women are cheap objects of desire. But the rub comes from the paradox. Some of the men are thugs with illusions of eloquence and Bruce Willis' John Hartigan is a man searching for redemption. Likewise, the scantily clad dames in fishnets, black leather and silver chains are both sex-symbols as well as angels on a pedestal. Thick false lashes and black Sobranies are but adornments. The women are also symbolic of the redemption the men seek. This is the interesting juxtaposition and the key to the film's fascination.
There are three overlapping stories that somehow sit side by side in a circular structure. Standout performances by the ensemble cast include Willis as the John McClane (of Die Hard) of Sin City, Clive Owen as a PI caught in the crossfire and a sensational Mickey Rourke as street-wise tough-guy Marv, who looks somewhat like Mr Incredible, and whose brutish exterior conceals a surprisingly sensitive heart. Then there's Elijah Wood as you've never seen him before, a chilling, cannibalistic low-life, hidden behind oversize, glasses, and a disarmingly evil-looking Benicio Del Toro.
Sin City is a film you won't forget in a hurry. The violence is strictly comic-book style, presented as torrid film-noir action. The characters are shocking and deliver maximum impact, yet the journey for redemption for Willis' Hartigan and Jessica Alba's sweet seductress Nancy, is an unexpectedly touching one. The visuals are extraordinary and Rodriguez has a hand in much of it - from the frenetic score to the super-sharp editing. See it - if you dare!