Sin City (***)

Posted on April 1st, 2005 in Movie Reviews by EngineerBoy

When I saw the trailers for Sin City I knew that I would hate it. The trailers showed that the film contained all of my least favorite film elements, to wit:

  • Film noir, which I hate with very few exceptions
  • Gratuitous use of black-and-white, including my least favorite subcategory of “certain things are still weirdly colorful”
  • Random characters (not superheroes) who casually break the laws of physics
  • Reverse-anachronisms, such as skyscrapers being modern-day glass and steel towers, but everybody still drives an old gangster car and wears snap-brim hats
  • Incessant smoking
  • Growling voice-overs
  • Every female character is young, beautiful, armed, tough, and dressed like a slut
  • Mickey Rourke
  • Nerds romanticizing their arrested adolescence by using the term “graphic novels” when referring to comic books

The only thing that would have made this film seem like a worse fit for me is if the characters were prone to breaking out into spontaneous song. But the above list still meant that I immediately dismissed this film and made no plans to see it, and made a mental note to not only not seek it out, but to actively avoid it for the rest of my life.

But I kept hearing good things. Good reviews. Good word of mouth. Consistently good. So last night when we were heading out for an evening of a movie followed by dancing, we went ahead and decided to see Sin City.

And I have to say that it was much better than I expected (and it would have been nearly impossible for it to be worse). The movie is very gritty and violent (an understatement), and has a very comic-book feel even though it is live action. Well, it’s live actors, but virtually the entire film was shot with them acting against a green-screen, and then the sets and backdrops were added digitally. The film is a series of interconnected vignettes set in the same city, involving some of the same characters.

The strongest vignette is the one with Mickey Rourke, where his character, Marv, is a Terminator-like psycho killer with a heart of gold (really) and Jay Leno’s chin. His character teeters between sainthood and insanity (depending on if he’s taking his medication), but while his methods are sometimes extreme, his intentions are always good, even if sometimes misinterpreted. Marv has a whirlwind infatuation with a high-class call girl (off the clock) who ends up dead with Marv framed for her murder. Marv goes on a merciless, relentless mission of vengeance that is simply hypnotic. Mickey Rourke may deserve a Supporting Actor nod for this one, and I say that begrudgingly but with the highest respect for his performance here.

The second strongest vignette is the one with Bruce Willis as Hartigan, a cop being forced into early retirement by a bum ticker. But, as the cliche goes, he still has one piece of unfinished business before he goes — the kidnapping of a little girl by a sadistic child rapist/serial killer. All the cops know who the killer is, but since he’s the son of an all-powerful senator there’s nothing that can be done other than trying to rescue the victims before he harms them. But he always goes free to try again. Hartigan acts gallantly and bravely in rescuing the young victim, and for that he is rewarded with false accusations, years in solitary confinement, public disgrace, and finally…well, I’ll leave that for you to find out if/when you watch the film.

The weakest segment involves Clive Owen struggling mightily over every word in his attempts to hide his accent and try to sound noir-tough as Dwight, a wanted murderer with a new face who rides to the rescue of the local ladies of the evening. The ladies end up doing most of the dirty work as the bad guys keep getting the drop on Dwight, and he ends up being the one needing rescuing. There is one funny segment where Dwight swaps some banter with the semi-decapitated, talking corpse of Jackie Boy (a bravura turn by Benecio Del Toro).

Overall the film has moments of excitement, drama, sadness, and humor. All of the elements mesh well into a cohesive vision, and this film gave me some insight into what it is that people like about film-noir and comic books…er…graphic novels. I’ll never be a fan of either, but I very much enjoyed Sin City.

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