Sin city

SIN CITY. 2005

Director: Robert Rodriguez

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

Sin City is the ultimate decadent hyper-film noir. It is shot in a highly stylized black & white with just occasional flashes of color, as for the woman's red dress & lipstick of the opening sequence. It takes place in an alternate Los Angeles called Basin City, but rightly called by its denizens Sin City. The gloomy violent mythology & the look of the film is taken directly from the graphic novels of Frank Miller, & every scene in this film is framed like a comic book panel, a comic book of the highest level of art.

The artificiality of the film truly creates its own universe. It's a film apt to be imitated in the future as it has become easier & cheaper to integrate human actors into digital environments, so the look of Sin City may not always seem as original as it seems now. But like the much-imitated Blade Runner, the original is apt to remain its own animal even as imitations come & go, because Frank Miller's defining art lends Sin City the timelessness of a Bogart film, not just the current hipness of an easily copied & merely faddish Matrix.

This is the most artful violent film since Quentin Tarrantino's Pulp Fiction, & like Pulp Fiction it consists of a series of unrelated or barely related short stories or interwoven vignettes, the whole of which is larger than its parts.

There are three main stories, each splendid in its own right, though best is the long episode starring a barely recognizable Mickey Roark plays Marv, the monstrous, gladiatorial, heartbroken, & probably schizophrenic avenger. His performance is beyond awesome. Marv wakes up one morning with a beautiful girl, Goldy (Jaimie King), dead in his bed. He's been framed; the police are already at the door. But that doesn't bother him as much as Goldy's murder. He rampages through the barrier of cops to begin his hallucinatory quest to find Goldy's killer. It takes him to the door of a supernatural cannibalistic warrior (Elijah Wood -- you'll never call him Frodo again) whose eyes glow with the souls of murdered & eaten whores. The final vengeance is ultra gory, but at the same time visually beautiful.

Almost as good is the episode that takes place in Old Town, ruled by an amazonian tribe of hookers ruled by a machinegun-toting dominatrix (Rosario Dawson). If you can afford them, these women will bring you paradise. But if you try anything brutal on them, they take care of their own. Clive Owen is Dwight, a criminal with a Gallahad complex. He saves a waitress from Jackie Boy (Benicio del Toro), then pursues Jack into Old Town, where he finds himself scarsely needed. When Jackie pulls a gun on one of the girls, a veritable female samurai drops from the roottops (Miho, beautifully played by Devon Aoki), & summarily dispatches Jackie & his posse.

Alas, it turns out Jackie was a hero cop, & the treaty between the police & the hookers will be broken if the land developers who want to take over Old Town can get Jackie's head to the police. The rest of the episode pits Dwight & the amazons against the developers (led by Michael Clarke Duncan).

The third story stars Bruce Willis as Hartigan, who is one of the rarest things in Sin City, an honest cop. He is about retirement age & has a bum ticker, but before his forced retirement he has to save a girl from a child molestor. The molestor is the son of a corrupt senator & can get away with anything he pleases, so when Hartigan takes him down, he shoots off the pervert's pecker.

The Senator is not amused & has Hartigan framed & kept imprisoned in solitary confinement for the next eight years. All that keeps him sane are the letters from Nancy, the girl he saved. When one of her envelops arrives with a severed finger in it instead of a letter, Hartigan knows he has to get out of prison & save the girl, who has grown up to be Jessica Alba. The villain of this episode is Yellow Bastard (Nick Stahl), the child molestor Hartigan castrated, & he is intent on torturing & killing Alba's character Nancy as revenge against Hartigan.

The stories are good, visceral, extreme. The acting, especially from Mickey Roarke, lives up to the material. But the great heart of this film's success is the manner by which it turns comic book frames three-dimensional with such perfection. No comic book has ever been transposed so perfectly to the screen, not even as anime, let alone with living actors.

If there is a flaw with Frank Miller's writing it is his relentless misogyny. Women exist aplenty for their sex appeal exclusively. Even the amazons barely have personalities; most lack even so little as character names. Jessica Alba's erotic dancer Nancy could've been played by a blow-up rubber sex doll. The numerous victims shown with taxidermed heads mounted on a wall have as much to do acting-wise as any woman in the cast who is actually alive.

Between helpless sex object & castrating bitch there is no room for heroism comparable to the boys. The characters played by Roarke, Owen, Willis, & del Toro are warriors of mythic scope; the scope is more limited for the women. My favorite character is Miho the samurai girl, who comes closest to matching the boys grim for grim; but she doesn't actually speak in the film, & it is very telling that the star of the amazon adventure is not one of the amazons, but Clive Owen's Dwight.

In this light, Tarantino's Pulp Fiction is the greater film, for characters played by Uma Thurman, Rosanna Arquette, & Amanda Plummer are as thrilling as the boys they play opposite. With Sin City even women viewers will have to enjoy it strictly as a boy's fantasy, a film noir fantasy lacking even one woman as exciting as Lauren Bacall telling Bogart he knows how to whistle doesn't he.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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