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Comic book noir leaps to life in ‘Sin City’

Rama Gottumukkala and Brian Doxtader | Tuesday, April 5, 2005

Rama: When asked about why the critically-acclaimed cult comic “Sin City” took so long to be translated to film, creator and co-director Frank Miller simply said he was allergic to Hollywood at the time. “Sin City’s my baby, and I wouldn’t want my little girl to go down the river,” he said.All it took for Miller to change his mind was director Robert Rodriguez’s invitation to come down to Texas and shoot a test with friends and members of his crew. When Miller discovered the “test” was Rodriguez’s finished take on the first scene in a proposed film, complete with Josh Hartnett and Marley Shelton – well, the rest is history. At long last, the stylized pulp-crime noir has landed, more than a decade after the source material first mesmerized readers. “Sin City” does not disappoint either long-time fans of the comics or someone completely oblivious to Miller’s works. Rodriguez has done a phenomenal job breathing life into Miller’s starkly beautiful creations and the result is the most grounded, faithful comic book adaptation yet.”Sin City” tells three different tales during the course of its two-hour running time, all centered in Basin City. This violent, crime-invested hell-hole is the staging ground, where the police department is as corrupt as the gangsters and criminals that rule the streets. The three stories interweave at points but each center on a different male lead motivated to action by beautiful women. Chief among these protagonists is Marv (Mickey Rourke), a tough, almost impossible-to-kill street thug with a soft spot for women. When he discovers that Goldie (Jamie King), a beautiful woman who he sleeps with for only one night, has been murdered while lying next to him, he roams Basin City in a vengeful rampage looking for justice. Also key to the plot is the plight of Dwight (Clive Owen), who tries to defend his secret lover Shellie (Brittany Murphy) and his former flame Gail (Rosario Dawson) from Jackie Boy (Benicio del Toro), a crooked cop prone to violence. Rounding out the trio of tales is Hartigan (Bruce Willis), perhaps the one good cop in Basin City. After being incarcerated for a crime that he didn’t commit, he gets out and vows to protect Nancy Callahan (Jessica Alba) from the advances of a serial rapist known as the Yellow Bastard (Nick Stahl).These three stories form the backbone for a swooping descent into the world of Miller’s creation and the end result takes your breath away. The visuals employed by Rodriguez are unique in that the film is primarily in black-and-white, with splashes of vibrant color for dramatic effect. The resulting visuals are simply stunning and a joy to behold.Filmed primarily on a blue-screen with the backgrounds and sets added digitally after filming, the swooping camera movements and fists-to-the-wall action are faithfully captured and take your breath away. “Sin City” feels very much like a living, breathing comic-book populated by human characters that will do whatever it takes to get their way. The cast list is impressive from top to bottom. Diverse and talented, the principal actors are headlined by a veritable who’s who of A-list stars, rising young actors and respected thespians known for character roles. The blend of this talent steadily balances a film that rips the audience’s attention from one storyline and whisks viewers off to a new locale and a different protagonist’s interior dialogue. There are too many excellent performances to pin down the weight of the film’s dramatic success to any one particular actor. But Rourke shines in a career-resurrecting performance that resounds with the emotion that hides behind the brutish looks of his character. Rourke infuses Marv with a sensibility that makes the audience root for a misanthrope who has no qualms with dragging a criminal on the road, side-by-side with a speeding car. And that’s not even the worst shred of violence in the film.Violence motivates almost all of the action in the film, with numerous severed limbs, one partial decapitation and countless bullets fired. While the violence will undoubtedly cause cringes and general queasiness, the heart of the film doesn’t beat with the bloodshed. Instead, the focus remains on the resolve of Marv, Dwight and Hartigan as they refuse to back down from their fairly honorable goals. And for the two hours the characters dominate the storyline, viewers can’t help but root for these anti-heroes despite the carnage they wreck.Powered by the visions of the two principal directors and spearheaded by Rodriguez, “Sin City” is a film that viewers won’t easily forget. The trio have helped create a masterpiece of film noir that brims with style and rises about the sins of the characters to paint a striking portrait of Miller’s “baby.”

Brian: “Sin City” is a hyper-stylized film noir taken to a wild extreme, a vertiginously battering experience that introduces a world where the good guys kill for love, the bad guys kill for novelty and the femmes are all fatales. It is also one of the most energetic and inherently watchable films in years, both a brave experiment and grand entertainment.The film was directed by Robert Rodriguez, who seems to be firing on all cylinders. His goal was to reproduce the “Sin City” comics frame-for-frame, and he has come startlingly close to that goal. He has reproduced the comics so lovingly and accurately and has directed with such flair and enthusiasm that we can forgive him “Once Upon a Time in Mexico” and almost forgive him “Spy Kids 3-D.” Almost. Frank Miller, who wrote and illustrated all of the graphic novels, is credited as a co-director and Quentin Tarantino shows up for a scene (a brilliant, appropriately pulpy hallucinogenic car ride that is long on both dialogue and style). The film is episodic, based on three of Miller’s books: The Hard Goodbye, The Big Fat Kill, and That Yellow Bastard. The first story is about a gold-hearted thug named Marv, who kills his way to the top in pursuit of the person who killed Goldie, the one woman who ever showed him kindness. The second is about Dwight, who becomes entangled in a gang war involving Jackie Boy, a crooked cop, and Gail, an old girlfriend who happens to be both a prostitute and the leader of one of the gangs. The third story revolves around Hartigan, the one good cop in all of Sin City, who tries to protect Nancy from the Yellow Bastard, a pedophile whom Hartigan permanently disfigured during a previous encounter. A picture like “Sin City” is all style. The gorgeous black-and-white cinematography is splashed with colors and effects in all the right places. The acting and dialogue is a loving pastiche of film noir clichés; this is initially jarring, but becomes extremely enjoyable (and often quite funny) once the audience is acclimated. This is a film in which one character doesn’t just behead another, she “makes a pez dispenser out of him” and Hartigan didn’t just feel helpless, he “felt as skilled as a cerebral palsy victim doing brain surgery with a pipe wrench.” The film creates its own insular world far more convincingly than most, a world in which characters take bullet after bullet and keep moving, and nobody seems to have a day job.”Sin City” is quite violent, but in such an over-the-top, cartoonish kind of way that the violence is galvanizing rather than repulsive. Still, this film is decidedly not for children or the faint of heart: dismemberment, cannibalism, mutilation and electrocution are all on display. That isn’t to say that Sin City has no moral compass whatsoever. Love stories form the core of all three plots and while the differentiation between “good” and “bad” is often thin, the delineation is still perceptible. Credit has to be given to Robert Rodriguez for his tenacity and steadfastness. Trying to reproduce a comic exactly on the screen is risky and unusual for a mainstream film, as was the crediting of Miller as co-director (Rodriguez quit the Director’s Guild over that decision). Thankfully, it all paid off, resulting in one of the most energetically refreshing films in recent memory. As exciting, innovative, stylish and postmodern as they come, Sin City is highly recommended and is a benchmark film.