Sin City is a stylistic Heaven of film noir fashion that tells a tale straight out of Hell. While it’s a triumph of style over substance, there’s still some fun to be had amidst the blood and guts.
Forget reality. Forget cinema verité. With Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino at the helm, assisted by Sin City’s creator, Frank Miller (the graphic novel master behind the revisionist Batman in The Dark Knight Returns), it’s time for cinema purée. Sin City is a flophouse filled with crime and punishment, a safe haven for hooligans who like to pummel, perforate, fillet, and flush other hooligans. Slice ‘em, dice ‘em, flambé ‘em. Here, to count the ways to kill a crook is vanity.
There are a million stories in Basin City, affectionately referred to as Sin City, and this film adaptation of Miller’s series of graphic novels tells three of those tales. It’s a stunningly faithful adaptation, oozing with loads of violence, attitude, and bodacious bodies.
One story involves John Hartigan (Bruce Willis, The Sixth Sense), a cop pushing 60 who refuses to die until an 11-year-old girl is rescued from a pedophile.
Another follows Marv (Mickey Rourke, Angel Heart), an incredibly ugly lug with a healthy respect for women. Marv gets framed for the murder of a prostitute and his investigation in pursuit of vengeance leads to the house of Kevin (Elijah Wood, The Lord of the Rings trilogy), a bespectacled cannibal. Needless to say, Marv leaves no limb attached.
The third story involves Dwight (Clive Owen, Closer) as he seeks revenge against his new girlfriend’s ex. That girlfriend is Shellie (Brittany Murphy, Don’t Say a Word), a hot waitress in a dive bar/strip club that serves as common ground for the protagonists (such as they are).
Schlock and Guffaw
In all of their stories, heads roll, bodiless hands keep a cold grip on weaponry, and revenge is the motivation behind every single plot point and action. It’s a simple concept told in eye-popping fashion, but there’s virtually no redeeming value.
Nonetheless, Sin City does manage to create a giddy sense of sick, twisted fun as the unflappable good guys battle the Hell-bound bad guys. It’s a black-and-white world presented in glorious black and white, highlighted with strokes of primary colors; a flash of blue eyes, a villain in yellow, and a heavy emphasis on red – dresses, tennies, and buckets o’ blood.
At its core, Sin City is a black comedy, black as pitch, and a stunningly over-the-top salute to pulp fiction. But the action wears down to the borderline sleazy exploitation and cheese director Rodriguez capitalized on with his “special guest director” Tarantino in From Dusk Till Dawn.
The credits boast of the film being shot “on location” in Austin, Texas. But, in reality, the film uses the same technical approach as Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow: minimalist sets, dominated by green screens, were meticulously enhanced via the magic of digital effects to create a nearly seamless world.
The fact that Sin City is presented in black and white gives the special effects an extra edge; the shadowy world of black and white can hide a lot of faults that would stand out like a severed thumb if shown in full color. Even so, some of the effects are so absurdly over the top and influenced by such relentlessly grotesque ambitions, no amount of digital enhancement can make them lifelike.
As the song goes, once upon a time a glimpse of stocking was considered shocking, but now anything goes. That goes double for Sin City. The days of shock at the mere mention of punishing people’s genitalia have been replaced with onscreen fist-to-groin action like never before.
Alas, Rodriguez and Tarantino (via Miller) are playing a tired game. They’ve already desensitized their audiences with non-stop verbal assaults and/or blazing weapons in movies like Desperado and Pulp Fiction. Here, the only hope is to ratchet up the body count to such genocidal levels, Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers would blush.
With that in mind, as far as schlock goes, Sin City is pretty good stuff. As an added bonus, there are plenty of quotable lines (“A hard top with a decent engine and make sure it’s got a big trunk.”) and it is satisfying to see the bad guys get their comeuppance.
The end result, then, is nirvana for fans of bloody mayhem and something of a non-event for almost all others. Sin City is a world of pedophiles, prostitutes, chauvinist pigs, and pistol whippers. Make no mistake, this one’s not for the kids.
After two hours of black-and-white-and-red maulings, decapitations, shootings, choppings, croppings, and flying limbs, it’s nice to step back into a Technicolor reality. Sin City is an interesting place to visit, but a helluva place to live.