Sin City

Reviewed By Collin Souter
Posted 04/04/05 13:38:05

"...or Not Very Pleasantville"
5 stars (Awesome)

Freaks, geeks and fanboys will love Sin City. The general average joe public will likely hate it. I myself have never read any of the Sin City comics. I’m no purist and I don’t have any qualms or issues with any of the casting. It’s strictly a movie to me. The purists who have collected Frank Miller’s stories seem pleased with Robert Rodriguez’s adaptation and I’m happy for them. More than that, I’m happy for movie fans. Fans like me. Fans who just want something to sink their teeth into, something to really talk about, something that will have us all high-fiving each other as though we just walked out of a home game and our boys brought home the big one.

The arrival of Sin City has understandably garnered that kind of reaction. As you watch it, you realize that you may be witnessing one of those watermark movies that will be fondly remembered at the end of a decade. Like Pulp Fiction 11 years ago, Sin City seems poised to be a classic amongst scholarly film enthusiasts, comic book fanatics and pop culture junkies, which means it will probably also spawn a string of pale imitators. It’s a phenomenal work of cinema, not on a high-minded artistic level, but on a damn-that-was-unbelievable-I-need-to-see-that-again-as-soon-as-humanly-possible level.

Also, like Tarantino’s film, Sin City tells many stories, all of which interact with each other somewhere down the road. The main ingredient that separates the two: The lush black and white cinematography with beautifully placed splashes of color. This is one of the most visually sumptuous films I’ve ever seen. In an age when we know how easily we can generate any unthinkable image, it’s no small praise when the look of a movie can really stand out and be noticed. Its insistence on appearing like an actual comic book—canted angles, exaggerated lighting, unmotivated shadows, disappearing backgrounds—puts the movie in a class all its own.

Most of all, it’s a gift to fans of film noir, much in the same way Kill Bill was a gift to those who love grindhouse films. Sin City follows the rules of the noir game while making up some new ones. True to its nature, the movie does contain a strong moral center, but it will likely be too ambiguous for some tastes. The male protagonists have rough, tough exteriors with the souls of poets (Bruce Willis, Mickey Rourke, Clive Owen). The male antagonists are among the most memorable sadists you’ll ever come across (Benicio Del Toro, Nick Stahl, Elijah Wood. Yeah, Elijah Wood. Just see it). The femme fatales—hookers and strippers here—can swing a sword and fire an Uzi as well as the rest of them, if not better.

Here’s where the movie will have some complaints. I have already had a conversation with a woman who liked the movie, but hated that almost every female character was either a hooker (Rosario Dawson, Alexis Bledel, Jamie King, Devon Aoki), or a stripper (Jessica Alba, who actually does not strip). In and of itself, it’s a valid complaint, given our culture when it comes to women and how we objectify them, but here I believe it balances out. The foibles and insecurities of the male characters do not go unexamined. In many ways, the women here are much stronger in spirit and physical force than the men. But, look, this is noir. Everyone is suspect and the rules of political correctness do not apply.

Many uninitiated viewers (non fans, non-movie junkies, people who are only going because it has a big cast) will find the movie shockingly violent and “immoral.” True, the movie features copious amounts of beheadings, castrations, cannibalism, boobs and all-around urine-infested nastiness…but that’s beside the point. In a movie/town called Sin City, I would expect to find nothing less than the depraved derelicts of society letting out their aggression through unspeakable acts, especially when the source material is a graphic novel where anything goes (and believe me, anything does). It’s stylized, gratuitous, freakishly funny and beautifully represents Rodriguez/Miller/Tarantino’s penchant for showmanship. If that’s not your thing, don’t go.

It would be a mistake to let the strong visuals, violent and sexual nature dictate one’s judgment of Sin City. It is to the directors’ credits that the all-around great performances shine through. Bruce Willis does his best work here since 12 Monkeys and Mickey Rourke will likely be the most favorite snubbed performance of the year come awards season. Rosario Dawson has finally been given a juicy role that puts her in the forefront of a stellar cast instead of taking her usual supporting backseat. Even Josh Hatnett—JOSH HARTNETT—has a chance to shine. I never realized it, but he looks perfect in a noir film. I didn’t hate him for a second.

Love it or hate it, Sin City is a force to be reckoned with. At a time when too many movies seem to just meander from one gutless convention to the next, it’s important not to take a movie as extreme as this for granted. That a hyper-violent, black-and-white, faithful comic book adaptation/ode to film noir can get made in this climate is still something of a miracle. Not everyone will gravitate toward it, but everyone who sees it will have a strong reaction. Bring it up sometime at a social gathering. Those who hated it will probably want to keep talking about it. Once the conversation ends, I would guess that everyone in the room will have the urge to see it again. Love it or hate it.

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