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"For those with a penchant for pulp, 'Sin City' is one guilty pleasure."
"The mood and tone are perfectly set - a smoking gun in the still of the night."
"A film you admire for its style and artistic integrity."
Sin City  

Cast

Hartigan: Bruce Willis
Marv: Mickey Rourke
Nancy: Jessica Alba
Gail: Rosario Dawson
Jackie Boy: Benicio Del Toro
Dwight: Clive Owen
Kevin: Elijah Wood
Bob: Michael Madsen
Yellow Bastard: Nick Stahl
Manute: Michael Clarke Duncan
Shellie: Brittany Murphy
Review April 2005

"There is no settling down! This is blood for blood and by the gallons. This is the old days, the bad days, the all-or-nothing days." These are the unsettling times that fill the streets of Sin City, a violent, indifferent, and unforgiving town where mayhem and mischief run amok. And it's a place where if you "walk down the right back alley?you can find anything." Dressed in black and white with only a hint of color, "Sin City" looks and feels like a stylized graphic novel. Executed verbatim from the Frank Miller comic vignettes by Robert Rodriguez, known for the Mariachi trilogy, the film glistens from beneath its shadows. Broken into three storylines, oftentimes commingled, you'll find a lot of lurid crime drama here. There's an ex-cop protecting a stripper, a street thug searching for a prostitute's killer, and an investigator caught in the middle of a turf battle between the sirens of the city and a corrupt police officer. With a raw, unadulterated edge, these stories may not appeal to mainstream audiences. But for those with a penchant for pulp, "Sin City" is one guilty pleasure.

The film opens with a short entitled, "The Customer is Always Right," an intro to the sexy and sinister world of Sin City before delving into three different, yet intermingled stories. The first involves the last good cop in town. At 60 years of age and nearing retirement, John Hartigan is still fighting. A Basin City cop with a rare heart condition, Hartigan is in hot pursuit of a sadistic pedophile. The pedophile, Rourke Jr., has kidnapped an innocent girl, 11-year old Nancy Callahan. And in spite of Hartigan's best efforts, rescuing the girl and putting Rourke Jr. in a coma, he is almost killed. Ironically, Rourke Jr. is the son of a Senator. And instead of being commended, Hartigan is imprisoned. After nine long years, Hartigan goes on a mission to find and protect the little girl (now fully grown) once again, a journey that takes him right back into the hands of the Senator's sadistic son, now known as Yellow Bastard.

Next, there's Marv, a hardened thug and street fighter, who has always lived by his own rules. But after a one-night affair with a prostitute named Goldie, his life changes. Not only is Goldie the most beautiful woman he has ever known; she's the only love he's ever known. Unfortunately, that love is short lived as Marv awakens to find that Goldie's been savagely murdered. As a result, he goes on an unrelenting, bone-crunching rampage in a search of her killers. It's a mission that takes him to some of the most despicable places in Sin City. And it's a mission that puts him head to head with some of its most wretched villains, from the cannibalistic Kevin to the culpable Cardinal Roark.

Lastly, there's the story of Dwight, a private investigator who finds himself constantly inundated with trouble. Following a late night rendezvous with a waitress named Shellie, Dwight finds himself in yet another pickle. One of Shellie's ex-boyfriends shows up at her apartment to raise hell with his posse. The complication? This ex-boyfriend is a dirty cop named Jackie Boy. After a brief tussle in which Jackie and his gang flee, Dwight pursues them all the way to Old Town, home of the sirens of Sin City and a place where cops are simply not welcome. In an effort to avoid conflict, Dwight joins forces with Gail and the ladies of Sin City. But like the rest of the tales from this town, conflict is unavoidable.

If you were to ask Robert Rodriguez about the adaptation of "Sin City," he would stop you dead in your tracks. "Sin City" is not an adaptation, but rather, a translation. And Rodriguez purposely resigned from the Director's Guild to share a co-director credit with Frank Miller, with whom he credits the film's uncanny look and feel. This gesture speaks volumes about the project, one that is full of passion and detail, and one that is determined to harness the "Sin City" spirit. While many would argue that the film lacks creativity in replicating a previous work, I would argue that there is even more work required to do the distinctive collection justice. Seamlessly, the storylines captured in "The Hard Goodbye," "The Big Fat Kill," and "That Yellow Bastard" are sequenced and edited without flaw. And the comic panel storytelling lends itself to something that is not necessarily new, but nevertheless refreshing and exhilarating. Opening with a short that is reminiscent of the noir films of the 40's and 50's, the mood and tone are perfectly set - a smoking gun in the still of the night.

Of course, the most remarkable aspect of the film is its look. Submerged in black and white with an occasional brush of color, "Sin City" is a sexy, sleek artistic expression. A red dress, a pair of green eyes, some wavy blond hair, and that Yellow Bastard - all are memorable images created by Frank Miller, a critically acclaimed artist whose influence can still be felt in comic circles, i.e. the origins of Elektra and Batman ("The Dark Knight Returns"). The style is what makes "Sin City" stand by itself. And it's a style and palette that Rodriguez employs, exercising restraint without compromise. Furthermore, it's important to realize this film's technological achievement as one of the first live action films to be fully digital. In other words, combining the use of high definition digital cameras and green screen back lots. While several others have used this approach before, most notably "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow," none are as appropriate or as compatible as "Sin City."

Gangsters, vigilantes, heroes, hookers, lovers and losers. The characters that comprise "Sin City" are diverse and aplenty. And when you have that many characters and that many famous faces, it has all the makings of a large distraction. But surprisingly, the cast is neither a distraction nor an aberration. Large and small roles alike, they are simply cogs in the Miller machine, reciting dialogue that's both direct and revealing. The single exception comes from the three leading roles of Hartigan, Marv, and Dwight. Instead of thought balloons, we are treated with a brisk narrative that repeatedly touches on the theme of Sin City: Reluctant heroes trying to do the right thing in a world that's indifferent and corrupt. Of particular significance is Mickey Rourke, who makes a memorable turn as Marv, a brute force whose voice is perfectly in tune with that of a bruised and battered prize fighter after a twelfth round decision. Heavy, gritty, straightforward and true.

As an amalgamate of Sin City stories, it's understandable that the pacing has to be brisk. But the downside to this, of course, is that there is very little time for character definition and motivation. This makes the storyline a little fuzzy up front. It's the equivalent of picking up a comic book in the middle of its run and trying to figure out who is who and what's going on. And despite the first person narrative, the method is not elaborate enough to explain the madness. In particular, the relationships between Bob and Hartigan, Manute and the city, Kevin and the Cardinal, Yellow Bastard and the Senator, Dwight and Gail, and the ladies and Old Town. While it offers a good excuse to delve into the comic, it's a shame that these elements are glossed over and sacrificed in an effort to compress three unique storylines into one.

Written and inked by Frank Miller back in 1991, "Sin City" quickly became one of the most critically acclaimed graphic novels of all time. With its distinguished silhouettes, select use of color, and snappy dialogue, the violent and somewhat risqu? stories of crooked cops, harlots, and heroes came to life in unprecedented form. Now, almost 15 years later, the work takes on a different shape, that of a motion picture. Translated with precision and passion by Robert Rodriguez, the film plays out like a tribute to Miller as his illustrations are lifted right off the comic pages themselves. It's a fantastic feat, one that makes ample use of cutting edge technology to pay homage in stunning fashion. Although the stories lack a certain depth, it's nothing mission critical. After all, this is a film you admire for its style and artistic integrity. And for that, as Marv appropriately conveys, "I don't know about you, but I'm havin' a ball."



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