November 12, 2005
Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller, Quentin Tarantino,
Starring: Mickey Rourke, Bruce Willis, Benicio Del Toro, Clive Owen, Elijah Wood, Jessica Alba, Brittany Murphy, Josh Hartnett, Nick Stahl, Rosario Dawson, Carla Gugino, Powers Boothe, Jaime King, Alexis Bledel, Michael Clarke Duncan, Michael Madsen, Rutger Hauer, ,
Sin City began as series of graphic novels created by Frank Miller. They are loving homages to the gritty pulp novels of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and Mickey Spillane and classic film noirs from the ‘40s and ‘50s. Miller’s world—the dangerous, crime-infested Basin City—is populated by tough, down-on-their-luck losers who risk it all to save impossibly voluptuous women from corrupt cops and venal men in positions of power through extremely violently means in the hopes of ultimately redeeming themselves. The movie ambitiously consists of three Sin City stories: That Yellow Bastard, The Hard Goodbye, and The Big Fat Kill with the short story, “The Customer is Always Right” acting as a prologue.
In the first story, Hartigan (Willis), a burnt-out cop with a bum-ticker and on the eve of retirement is betrayed by his partner (Madsen) after maiming a vicious serial killer (Stahl) of young girls who also happens to be the son of a very power senator (Boothe). The next tale features a monstrous lug named Marv (Rourke) who wakes up in bed with a dead prostitute named Goldie (King) and decides to get revenge on those responsible for killing the only person that mattered in his miserable life. The final segment focuses on Dwight’s (Owen) attempt to keep the peace in Old City when the prostitutes who run the area unknowingly kill a high profile (and also a sleaze bag) cop named Jack Rafferty (Del Toro) and risk destroying the precarious truce between the cops and the hookers that currently exists.
The three main protagonists are well cast. Bruce Willis is just the right age to play Hartigan. With the age lines and the graying stubble on his face, he looks the part of a grizzled, world-weary cop with nothing left to lose. Quite simply, Mickey Rourke was born to play Marv. With his own now legendary real life troubles and self-destructive behavior, the veteran actor slips effortlessly into his role as the not-too-bright but with a big heart hero. British thespian Clive Owen is a pleasant surprise as Dwight and is more than capable of convincingly delivering the comic’s tough guy dialogue.
The larger-than-life villains are also perfectly cast. Perhaps one of the biggest revelations is the casting of Elijah Wood as the mute cannibal Kevin. Nothing he has done previously will prepare you for absolutely unsettling creepiness of his character.
Of the women in the cast, Jessica Alba is the only real miscast actress for her role. Not only does she not look like her character, Nancy Callahan (who was much more curvy and full-bodied and naked most of the time) but she does not go all the way with the role and her line readings feel forced and unnatural. Fortunately, Rosario Dawson more than makes up for Alba as Gail, an S&M-clad, heavily-armed prostitute who helps Dwight dispose of Rafferty’s body. She looks the part and inhabits her role with the kind of conviction that Alba lacks.
Finally, somebody has realized that the panels of a comic book are perfect storyboards for a movie adaptation. With Miller’s guidance, Robert Rodriguez has an uncannily recreated, in some cases, panel-for-panel, Sin City onto film. He has not only preserved the stylized black and white world with the occasional splash of color from Miller’s comic but also the gritty, dime-novel love stories that beat at its heart. Fans of the comic will be happy to know that virtually all of the film’s dialogue (including the hard-boiled voiceovers) has been lifted verbatim from the stories and the sometimes gruesome ultraviolence has survived the censors intact.
Sin City is absolutely drenched in the film noir iconography: hired killers, femme fatales and populate dirty, dangerous city streets on rainy nights. It is the pulp, noir offspring of James Ellroy and Sam Fuller with a splash EC Comics gore. Ultimately, Sin City is a silly and cool ride and one has to admire a Hollywood studio for having the balls to release a major motion picture done predominantly in black and white with the kind of eccentric characters, crazed violence and hyper-stylized world that screams instant-cult film, not potential box-office blockbuster.