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SIN CITY (R) (2005)

Dimension Films

Official Site

Directors: Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller, Quentin Tarantino

Producers: Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez, Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein

Written by: Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez

Cast: Jessica Alba, Rosario Dawson, Elijah Wood, Bruce Willis, Benicio Del Toro, Clive Owen, Michael Clarke Duncan, Carla Gugino, Josh Hartnett, Michael Madsen, Jamie King, Brittany Murphy, Mickey Rourke, Nick Stahl, Rutger Hauer, Devon Aoki, Marley Shelton, Nicky Katt

Rating:


Although I currently reside (one can’t quite call it “living”) in Austin, Texas, I have little love for the city’s two indigenous directors, Richard Linklater and Robert Rodriguez, both of whom are so lauded within this town that they could disembowel Lady Bird Johnson and tag team her corpse while denouncing Stevie Ray Vaughn and simultaneously defecating on a Texas flag to the applause and exaltation of dreadlock’d Austinites. (My admission of dislike concerning those men could, in fact, result in Harry Knowles and his mongoloid crew of grossly overweight sycophants stealing me from my bed and burning me alive at a specialized Ain’t It Cool News event held at the Alamo Drafthouse while Return Of The Jedi footage of a fallen Darth Vader being immolated plays on loop in the background, so tell no one what you read here.) Linklater, responsible for the canonized-yet-unwatchable Slacker and the galaxy’s second most pretentious film (after Slacker), Waking Life, last year directed Before Sunset, which I admit to savoring, despite its agonizingly socio-political first half hour. And I was impressed, and I believed that redemption was possible. Rodriguez, whom I, too, idolized in the wake of a triad of films—El Mariachi, Desperado, and From Dusk Till Dawn—which were extraordinary to me at 16, went on to helm dreck like The Faculty, the Spy Kids trilogy, and Once Upon A Time In Mexico, which makes me ashamed to live only a few hours from Mexico. Rodriguez had evolved from modest, maverick DIY director to fire-and-brimstone proselytizer of digital cameras and maniacal hydra filmmaker with his strained talent controlling every aspect of his “flicks,” from cinematographing to scoring. As a result, he hadn’t directed an above-middling movie in nigh on seven years. And then there was Sin City, the most accurate and artful comic book film thus far, and once more I believe that redemption is possible.

Sin City is the story of Hartigan (Willis), a veteran, good-hearted cop determined to end the reign of terror of Junior (Stahl), a sociopathic, pedophilic child murderer, before he retires or his good heart stops ticking. It is the story of Marv (Rourke), a schizophrenic ex-con with the face of a melting candle, who vows to find and make pay the man responsible for killing an angelic prostitute named Goldie (King) who, for one rare night of his life, showed Marv beauty. It is the story of Dwight (Owen), a gun-slinging, sneaker-sporting loner intent on mending a frayed truce between the autonomous prostitutes of Old Town and the police, personal sacrifice be damned. And it is once again the story of Hartigan, who, eight years after his encounter with Junior, must relive the nightmare and protect a stripper named Nancy (Alba) from a fetid menace known only as That Yellow Bastard. These are but a few stories of the desperate, gnarled inhabitants of Basin City, a noir-world perpetually frozen somewhere between the 1940s and Hell.

The most immediately striking aspect of Sin City is its remarkable visual style, which almost, almost, almost captures the inimitable imagery of (co-director and comic book master) Frank Miller’s meticulous black-and-white graphic novels. A prelude vignette featuring Josh Hartnett and Marley Shelton as a pair of unnamed partygoers, both in possession of secrets (and based on the anthologized Sin City short “The Customer is Always Right”), sets an indelible visual standard of digital and crisp black-and-white punctuated by dashes of color ranging from delicate (notice how Shelton’s eyes flicker jade as Hartnett lights her cigarette) to deliberate (That Yellow Bastard and his monochromatic saffron blood). The viewer is transported directly to Basin City, and the film’s tonal effectiveness is intrinsically dependent on the look of the picture; never is it excessive or valueless. To emulate Miller’s artwork cinematically, Sin City pays homage to its paginated source material with distinctive stylistic flourishes, such as the luminescent whiteness of blood, rain, and specific articles of characters’ costumes; camera placement which mirrors to exactitude panels of corresponding Sin City comics; and the silhouetting of key story moments which bear Miller’s emblematic linework. Similar to Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow and most of the Star Wars prequels, Sin City was shot with digital cameras with actors situated before nothing more than bleak blue screens, and the sets created via computer after the commencement of principal photography; though still a developing technology, and sometimes imperfect and awkward, this property and its beautiful visual moodiness would likely have been impossible to convey with standard methods.

In spite of Sin City primarily being shot on ghost sets, its actors have, paradoxically, seldom appeared more alive and invested in the mini-universe of a film. Willis, in particular, awakens from a mossy hibernation induced by the The Whole ___ Yards franchise, grizzly and unshaven, with the cross of a martyr cut into his character’s face. Inherent in Hartigan are a multitude of base but complex human emotions—anger, sadness, determination—so finely channeled by Willis that the character’s plight, though archetypical and platitudinous, proves surreptitiously affecting. Likewise, Rourke’s brutish and battleworn Marv, the steelfisted goon, is given deft vulnerability by the makeup-slabbed actor in the character’s quieter moments. And Owen’s Dwight, though confident and cavalier, is poured a foundation of sorrowful resolve through vocal intonation and prescient stares. Although we are not given much time with these characters, a great deal is conveyed by economic and telling first-person voice-overs which run the course of each character’s episode(s) and add an unexpected layer of sympathy to each major male player. Less fortunate are the female denizens of Sin City, whose roles are restricted to either sexual objects or mostly-hardened victims. Jessica Alba’s Nancy and Rosario Dawson’s Gail, the most developed (no pun intended) of the film’s women, both exude a strength garnered from the hardships they’ve weathered, but ultimately exist solely to further the redemptive tales of the men in their lives; which isn’t to say that the actresses don’t fare well, because they do, but this is a film not centered on the plights of women, just as The Banger Sisters was unconcerned with analyzing the ethicality of men who do what they must to survive.

It is that blurred, contradictory ethicality which elevates Sin City beyond the stolid comic book or action genres and aligns it with the noir films of old; yes, Sin City is chiefly a fetishistic crime fantasy, but it also makes a profound and weirdly inspirational comment on the human condition. Hartigan, Marv, and Dwight are all highly flawed and haunted characters, each morally removed from society on a unique level; all three seem grossly ill-equipped to crawl up from their hovel-lives, transcend their defects, and leave Basin City bettered by their influence because those they care for need them. And yet, all three characters do just that, tearing their way through turncoat partners, child rapists, evangelical cannibal martial artists, corrupt senators, Irish mercenaries, golden-eyed gang enforcers, and Yellow Bastards with determination that is almost sweet in its potency. The entire film, in effect, is an affirmation of the adage that states “anything’s possible if you put your mind to it,” as well as a metaphorical advertisement that redemption, even for the worst of the worst, is always an option. Truly, to observe Marv give all he has and act as Goldie’s avenging angel of death is to be moved. Also fascinating and contributory to the film’s richness is Miller’s take on women: In Sin City they serve as both the catalysts for the male protagonists’ predicaments as well as the divine sources of strength which allow them to push forward and overcome; the film, despite carrying what seems to be an almost offensive anti-feminist agenda, actually asserts that women are the only thing in the world worth fighting for.

In the wake of the previous paragraph, which I must admit to being embarrassed to have written because of its pseudo-intellectualness, I would like to state plainly that Sin City is, most importantly, both violent and fun as ten country miles of fuck. Expect gushing blood and severed limbs and disembodied heads and wolves eating the flesh of their masters and swords through heads and all those other things the cinema is stubborn to supply. And for those who like to masturbate during or directly after movies, Sin City contains sustained semi-nudity and ample full-on nudity (though not nearly as much as the graphic novels). The first great film of the year, Sin City not only offers a near-literal (via cinema) translation of a remarkable collection of comic books, but also heralds the resurrection of Robert Rodriguez; perhaps he’ll heed the lessons learned on this picture and realize the benefits of getting by with a little help from his friends.

—Nathan Baran

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

Itís worth a full-price ticket.

Itís worth a matinee ticket.

Wait for video rental.

Check out the video from the library, if you must.

While we would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...


Mike Doughty



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