Sin City

4 stars


19th April 2005

Sin City is the latest attempt to bring a successful comic to the big screen, and damn, if it isn't the yardstick that all future movies following this route should take. It's not so much a movie of a comic as the comic itself in movie form. Robert Rodriguez and author Frank Miller, together with "guest director" Quentin Tarantino, have done a wonderful job in transferring Miller's work from printed page to celluloid. Frames are lifted in their entirety from the source material, the dialogue remains virtually unchanged and the plots of the three interconnecting stories - that's The Hard Goodbye, The Big Fat Kill and That Yellow Bastard - are identical to the graphic novel originals. Each story basically boils down to the one recurring theme in Miller's Sin City titles - how far will men go when a beautiful woman is involved? Dames - you can't live with 'em, you can't shoot 'em. Well, in Miller's world, you probably could, but they would just shake off the bullet like it was a minor inconvenience and serve you your balls on a platter.

The cast is a director's wet dream. Bruce Willis, Mickey Rourke, Benicio Del Toro, Michael Clarke Duncan, Michael Madsen, Nick Stahl and Jessica Alba amongst others all perform wonderfully, and most are a scenery chewing joy to watch. Elijah Wood also does an excellent "anti Frodo" turn as silent cannibalistic hitman Kevin. Rosario Dawson as the dominatrix / mother figure to her pack of hookers is particularly good, a sexily vicious predator and a woman who's able to take just as many punches to the gut as the men in the movie. The voiceover of Clive Owen's character Dwight as he describes her as his "warrior woman" and "valkerie" as she's raining hell down upon a group of bad guys comes across as comically romantic and shows the mental state of most of the men in the sordid and dirty universe of the notoriously cranky Mr Miller.

In fact, the entire movie is gloriously violent and takes it to almost superhero levels. There's also a frequent occurrence of laugh out loud moments. Marv (Mickey Rourke, almost unrecognisable under latex) is an almost unstoppable Frankenstein-esque monster with a penchance for torture and mayhem, all in the name of finding who killed his precious Goldie - a one night stand he falls immediately and tragically in love with. Bullets fly, severed hands seem to reach obsessively perverse levels, and a severed head features as the driving force in The Big Fat Kill. Rodriguez uses a trick learned from Tarantino to get around the censors - the blood is white. Well, apart from when the violence is occurring just off screen, as in ex-replicant Rutger Hauer's case. When this happens, there's an almost pornographic glee in spurting inky black blood.

Since this is three comic stories on screen there is a heavy, heavy reliance on voiceovers, therefore unfortunately there are some clumsily delivered lines (Josh Hartnett, I'm looking at you.) In the comic, this is unavoidable as a plot device. In a movie, it's widely derided as being a lazy way to offer plot exposition. At times all you are left with is a "Max Payne" hyper noir style monologue, with the character delivering it left staring out of the screen with little else happening. If they were attractive this wouldn't be a problem, but the majority of times it's Bruce Willis gurning face, looking like he's in serious need of a good dump. For example, the show-stealing Marv delivers a fantastic monologue to screen: "What if I'm wrong? I've got a condition. I get confused sometimes. What if I've imagined all this? What if I've finally turned into what they've always said I would turn into? A maniac. A psycho killer..." To me, this came across as a great cinema moment. My partner, who is not a comic or noir fan, was left cold and found the entire movie boring and slow. It takes all sorts.

Let's hope Sin City makes a mint, and shows future directors just how a comic adaptation should be done. You'll not find any nationality changes of main characters here a la Constantine. The only thing that has changed from the comics is the level of nudity. Sure, there's both male and female T&A on display, but nowhere near the same level as the comics. It's a small price to pay to get pants on Yellow Bastard and not to have to see Bruce Willis' winky though, so lets all be grateful for small mercies, eh?

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