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Sin City
2005 - R - 126 Mins.
Director: Frank Miller,Robert Rodriguez
Producer: Frank Miller,Robert Rodriguez
Written By: Frank Miller,Robert Rodriguez
Starring: Mickey Rourke Rosario Dawson Bruce Willis Benicio Del Toro Clive Owen
Review by: Greg Ursic
Official Site:

Can't you read?!? The sign says no smokin'!
In Sin City Johnny Law is just as likely to put the screws to you as the local hoods. On these dirty streets justice is for dreamers - might makes right and the weak get used, abused and discarded. If you’ve got the right connections you can do anything to anyone, and there ain’t nothing anyone can do about it. Well, almost no one. There’s still a couple of misguided do-gooders out there with more guts that brains who’re willing to fight for what they think is right and to hell with the cost. If they meet their maker in the process, at least they’ll get a well deserved rest.

Graphic artist Frank Miller single-handedly resuscitated the flagging Batman franchise in 1986 with his Dark Knight series, a radical reworking of the caped crusader mythos. Miller’s visionary style caught the attention of studio bigwigs and they wooed him into directing Robocop 2. He soured on the biz after seeing his work butchered by shortsighted execs and retreated into the comic realm, scribing his magnum opus - Sin City.

The series of graphic novels (seven in all) feature stark black and white imagery spattered with the occasional gush of color, replete with vicious villains and even tougher anti-heroes spouting pulp poetry. The studios were ready for Sin, but Miller, still gun-shy after his initial experiences made it clear that unless they guaranteed him artistic control, he wasn’t interested. Enter wunderkind Robert Rodriguez, the director of such frenzied flicks as El Mariachi and Desperado, who was enamored of Miller’s work. Rather than tamper with the formula, Rodgriguez suggested that they should transpose the storyboards from the novel to the big screen, and offered to let Miller direct the film. Rodriguez went so far as to quit the Directors Guild of America (when they refused to list Miller as the co-director) so that Miller would get full Director’s billing. Now that’s faith.

Much to his chagrin, Mickey Rourke, who has sought in vain to play against type, embodies Marv, the bombastic sociopath on a bender for vengeance (the character was apparently written with him in mind). Despite having his face buried beneath layers of prosthetics, Rourke is surprisingly animated and more than menacing, and carries the bulk of the film on his massive shoulders -- the last thing you want is to see is Marv’s mug in your face. Benicio Del Toro also undergoes a transformation to become major league sleazeball Jack Rafferty, a ruthless predator who should know better. His interactions with his ex’s current beau (Clive Owen) make for some of the most humorous and outright disturbing exchanges in the film, which given the subject matter is no small feat. Bruce Willis, unencumbered by prosthetics, borders on melancholy as John Hartigan the penultimate cliche: the only good cop in a bad lot. He’s got a bum ticker and goes after the bad guys on the day he’s supposed to retire. While Hartigan’s screentime is surprisingly limited, Willis succeeds in generating pathos and you can’t help but root for one thing to go right for the guy. And I’d be remiss if I left out the stunningly creepy Elijah Wood as Kevin, a special breed of serial killer with a particularly nasty habit.

The women in the cast are largely relegated to stripped down (some more than others) set pieces with the noticeable exception of Rosario Dawson, who practically vibrates as Gail, the leader of the notorious red light district known as Old Town. Dawson clearly has fun with the role, equal parts Madame, dominatrix, and crazed huntress -- she embraces violence as a means to an end, or an ending. No matter what you might think of the actors or the performances, it’s the visuals that will keep you in your seat.

Miller’s opening sequence, a drama with apparently star crossed lovers, plays out on a bichromatic landscape punctuated by hyperactive bursts of color and gritty Mike Hammer style dialogue sets the tone for the rest of the film. Color is used sparingly and clearly calculated to deliver maximum effect: the visual impact of blood that virtually fluoresces highlighting even the slightest nick or cut, helps give the film a definitively surreal quality. The chase sequence with Clive Owen is especially riveting with its exquisite yet subtle kaleidoscope of color shifts (there was speculation that this may have been the sequence that Tarantino directed given his penchant for characters in cars). Clearly not a man to waste his time or intentions, it’s apparent that he’s also a serious artist as revealed by the use of abstract and cubist elements in the way he frames certain scenes. Unlike last year’s novelty film Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Sin City is more than an array of astonishing visuals.

Each story (Sin City, Yellow Bastard and The Big Fat Kill,) is a distinct entity and fully capable of standing on its own. While it initially appears that the plot is unfolding in roughly chronological order, it soon becomes evident that bouncing timelines are at work and you need to pay attention so as not to miss anything. It’s also questionable as to how or if they’ll converge (and I ain’t telling). The larger than life characters are surprisingly deep (or conversely appropriately shallow) and with their cheesy B-movie dialogue styling (which separates the good actors from the bad) are more than just props for the set pieces. Although based on a comic, it’s definitely not a film for the kiddies.

Unlike most comic book to film adaptations which tone down the adult content, Sin City revels in it. While the language and nudity may not be excessive by today’s standards, the violence surely is. Aside from the standard gunshot-to-the-head scenario, there are amputations, beatings, beheadings, castrations, exploding body parts, strangulation and amateur tracheotomies brought to you in exquisitely technicolor. Think Itchy and Scratchy but without the canned laugh track (although you may find yourself laughing in spite of yourself – I know I did).

At 126 minutes, the film runs a bit long, and while initially amusing, I found that the dime store gangster dialogue began to drag after a while. These are however trifles, that do not take away from Miller’s brilliantly executed concept of what a comic to film adaptation can be – energetic, daring, and engrossing it is a visual tour de force that will surely influence artists in both mediums. Sin City is like a crash course in art appreciation that also happens to be a lot of fun.
Movie Guru Rating
An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater.
  4 out of 5 stars

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