Frank Miller’s Sin City

by Alan Rapp on August 19, 2005

in DVD Reviews 

  • Title: Sin City
  • IMDB: link

Walk down the right back alley in Sin City, and you can find anything…

It might seem strange to call a movie as violent and bloody as Sin City beautiful but no other word quite fits.  After all the movie vividly contains decapitation, canibalism, castration, severed limbs, truckloads of guns and explosions, and blood in all different shades and colors.  It’s a film noir overflowing with deceit, treachery, torture, murder and death.  Yet somehow this is all captured as originally drawn by Frank Miller and transferred so lovingly onto screen that one can not help but sit back with wonder and appreciation.  Beautiful?  ‘Bet your ass!

The plot of the film blends three main stories, with one or two small ones,  compiled from Frank Miller’s successful Sin City graphic novels.  We get three hardboiled protagonists in the sinful setting of Basin City. 

Hardigan (Bruce Willis) is one honest cop in a city owned by the crooks.  On his last day on the job he saves 11 year old skinny little Nancy Callahan (played as an adult by Jessica Alba) from a senator’s demented son (Nick Stahl) only to be shot by his partner and put in prison for Junior’s crimes. 

Dwight (Clive Owen) returns to Basin City finding himself between a psychotic cop Jackie Boy (Benico Del Toro) and the women Dwight loves and Jackie torments (Brittany Murphy and Rosario Dawson). 

Marv (Mickey Rourke) is framed for the death of the one woman who ever showed him compassion (Jaime King) and fights his way through cops and crooks to find those really responsible and kill anything that gets in his way.  The film is book ended by a charming assassin (Joss Hartnett) who specializes in killing attractive young women.

Let’s start with Marv.  Mickey Rourke owns the screen for every frame of film he appears.  Bigger than life and twice as ugly, Rourke gives him a humor and sadness that somehow makes this character not only watchable but lovable.  Marv commits some of the most despicable acts ever captured on film, and yet because of his circumstance we don’t begrudge him.  Oddly enough he seems entitled to it.  I never knew Rourke had such a role in him.

Hardigan and Nancy’s tale is works quite well.  Nick Stahl gives a wonderfully wicked performance as Junior/Yellow Bastard.  Hollywood has tried to use serial killers in movies before but usually fail in trying to make them too smart or too charming.  Neither could be used to apply to Junior.  He’s a spoiled and malicious monster that despite his hideous yellow glow seems all too real.

The weakest story of the three involves Dwight, the maniacal Jackie Boy and the women of old town.  Dawson is perfect as the tough and sexy leader of the one part of Basin City run not by cops or crooks, but by prostitutes.  Miller obviously loves the image of a woman with a gun and Rodriguez gives it to us in spades.  The story doesn’t have the visual impact of Marv’s or the emotional impact of Hardigan’s, but works on its own level.

The film is shot stunningly in black and white with odd splashes of color (as originally drawn by Miller).  We get a red dress,  blue eyes, golden hair, and one yellow bastard.  In Sin City blood can run white, red, or even yellow.  The splash adds depth to the look of the film which is as visual pleasing as anything done in CGI.  It also accentuates and adds touches to each character:  Dwight’s cherry red convertible, Wendy’s innocent blue eyes, and many others.  The film was shot frame for frame from the Miller’s pages and it shows.  The film is a moving comic book; you can see the strong imagery of Miller mixed with Rodriguez’s sense of motion.  The result is breathtaking.  From beautiful cityscapes to dingy alleys this movie lives and breathes.

The time period of the film is never stated.  We get cars from the fifties and sixties, but we also get Marv’s remark about how new cars all look like electric shavers.  The timelessness helps add another quality to the film; it could be happening now or have happened long ago.  This style also helps to produce the feel of the era when this type of writing ruled the newsstands and Hollywood.

Although all three protagonists are men the women of Basin City can hold their own.  Carla Gugino is superb as Lucille, Marv’s parole officer who seems to make all the wrong decisions.  Alba is fine in a role that calls for her to shake her booty and look doe eyed at the man who saved her life.  Brittany Murphy comes off well as the woman who always falls for the wrong man.  Dawson and her group of gun totin’ whores including Devon Aoki as the silent sword slashing killer Miho and Alexis Bledel as the timid but conniving Becky, spring fully realized from the pages of pulp magazines.  Jamie King is terrific in the dual role of Goldie and Wendy.  Feminists may not like some of these roles, but I have a hard time thinking of a film with more strong female characters in recent Hollywood memory.

I’ve gone this far and I still haven’t mentioned the insightful casting of some great supporting characters.  Powers Booth and Rutger Hauer provide us with unrelenting villains who honestly believe that power gives them the right to do whatever they want.  Elijah Wood is just creepy as hell as the silent but lethal cannibal Kevin.  Michael Madsen gives depth to the role of Hartigan’s partner who betrays him; he gives a throw away role some heart.  Even Miller himself gets into the act in a small role as one of Marv’s victims.  Each is wonderful in their limited time on screen and adds to the texture and atmosphere of the film.  This is a fully realized world populated by characters of all shapes and sizes.

The film is magnificent, but the package is pretty bare.  I was hoping for commentary from Miller or a cut screen version with the comic and the movie playing simultaneously.  Sadly all we get is an eight minute documentary you might see on HBO or Showtime and trailers for unrelated material the studio is trying to push.  Hopefully we will get more bells and whistles when the rumored special edition is released; until then this will have to do.

This film easily makes it on my list of top films of the year.  Even with extra features severely lacking I would recommend it highly to all.  Miller’s work is flawlessly transferred onto screen and Sin City joins my short list with Unbreakable as being now the two best comic book films ever made.  The look of the film is more than enough to recommend it, but the performances themselves warrant serious consideration.  Any film where Mickey Rourke blows all the other actors off the screen is definitely worth taking a peek at.  Our heroes, like Marv, are flawed as is the city in which they live.  The world Miller gives us is a world of grey, shot in black and white, where the line between good and evil remains always blurry.

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