Worth A Look: 16.98%
Pretty Bad: 11.73%
Total Crap: 6.79%
18 reviews, 216 user ratings
Somebody has to give the dissident view of this movie. I guess it might as well be me. I admire Robert Rodriguez tremendously for making "Sin City," and for making it the way he did. What I don't like is the film itself. Rodriguez has embraced Frank Miller's exaggerated film-noir comic book and carefully replicated it. As a film, it's an embalmed shell of a comic book.For all the dazzling black-and-white-with-only-occasional-flashes-of-color imagery, there's no emotional connection to these stories, set in a mythical film-noir city inhabited solely by thugs with hearts of gold, hookers with hearts of gold, and blackly unredeemable sociopaths.
"A Failed Experiment in Overkill"
Part of Rodriguez's problem is the material he chose. Frank Miller's "Sin City" books had a bold, dazzling black-and-white style, but their florid plots and overwrought characters seemed interchangable. The first one, the story of Marv (the first section of the film), was like an amped-up, exaggerated, primal scream of film noir drama. But as Miller did more of them, it became clear that he had nothing to add to that first, shocked reaction his work provoked. Marv gave way to Dwight who gave way to Hartigan, and the look--all extreme blacks and whites with no midtones--stayed the same. All the heroes are relentless thugs who get the crap beaten out of them along the way in their oddly identical quests to save (or avenge) the hookers or strippers with hearts of gold they happen to love. Putting three of the "Sin City" stories together in one movie shows how they're essentially, unimaginatively, the same.
This may have been a doomed venture from the start. Taken individually, each story was way, way over the top. The violence/corruption/nightmare level in any one story was perilously close to the edge of too much. When you put them all together, the film jumps off that edge. The result is that the beatings, shootings, stabbings and mayhem become boring and unmoving. Who's getting beaten now? Who cares?
For example, take the character of Kevin. It's not enough that he's a cannibalistic psycho who eats the bodies of murdered prostitutes; it's not enough that he has mounted his victim's heads as trophies in a hidden room on the farm where he dispatches them. No, it also turns out that he is being protected by the police at the behest of the very politically well-connected local bishop, who has joined him in his murders. So by the time the SECOND psychopathic killer who's getting protected by the police shows up in the movie (with another to come!), it becomes impossible to give a damn.
But the big problem with "Sin City" is that what works in a comic book, if copied too closely, simply doesn't work in a movie.
For example, there's a moment in the Marv story where Marv is questioning folks to find out who killed his love, Goldie. At one point, you turn the page to an image of Marv driving a car with the door open, and holding a fellow he's questioning face down on the pavement as he drives along. As a single image in a comic book it works; it's shocking and funny and like a snapshot from the abyss. But try to stage that exact same image in a film, as Rodriguez did, and it looks posed, silly and impossible. Again and again the film starts to rouse itself to life and motion, but again and again Rodriguez stops it by cutting to the essentially static images that he's copying from Frank Miller's book.
Rodriguez is a master at knowing how to make films move, and his earlier films are masterpieces of that. So he's essentially turning his back one of his strengths to do this. It doesn't work.
Add to that the shots occasionally becoming stylized, all-white silhouettes on black backgrounds, and you start to feel that you're not watching a story so much as visiting a slideshow at some kinky modern art museum.
The other aspect of comic books is that because they can't give you the subtlety of facial expressions that movies can, they present the thoughts and feelings of their characters with dialog and thought balloons. These characters talk three times as much as any other movie charactrers you'll see this year, and it's all this overheated, purple prose from the books. And that turns out to be way too much. I was reminded again and again of Harrison Ford's famous line to George Lucas when they were making the first "Star Wars" film: "You can write that shit, George; but you can't say it."
But the problem isn't that the dialog is artificial--ALL dialog is artificial. It's that there is too much of it, so that you notice its extreme artificiality.
It's unfortunate, but as much as Rodriguez has learned about editing and cinematography and all the technical aspects of making movies, he hasn't learned that a good actor can sometimes say more with a look than with ten pages of dialog, and he never gives them a chance to deliver that. Using Marv as an example again, there's a moving moment in the comic book where Marv, poor delusional sap that he is, is convinced he's talking to the ghost of Goldie, and thinks that his sanity has finally deserted him. It's the sort of moment that actors live for, as you go in for the close-up and we get to see how broken up he is inside. But Rodriguez, loyal to the comic book, doesn't show it. Instead, we get the images and the dialog from the book, and rather than a simple moment where a beaten-down loser thinks he's finally lost it passes without any emotion connected to it at all.
Still, you have to admire Rodriguez's bravery. He's even managed to make black-and-white cool again for a younger generation that avoids black-and-white movies, and that's got to count for something. His love for the books and his loyalty to them induced him to follow them slavishly and try to reproduce them exactly. Rodriguez even gave co-director status to Miller, and he had to leave the Director's Guild to do so. I wish it had worked for him.All in all, this is another boring movie with a look you'll remember long after you've forgotten its characters, its plots, and everything else about it, to go on the shelf with "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow," and all the others we've seen like it for the last few years.
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originally posted: 04/30/05 16:17:27