Sin City

written by Frank Miller

directed by Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez

starring, oh jeez, Mickey Rourke, Bruce Willis, Clive Owen, Rosario Dawson, Elijah Wood, Benicio Del Toro, Carla Gugino, Brittany Murphy, on and on and on…


review by Stephen Notley

Man, I am so conflicted about Sin City. On the one hand, it's an inarguably note-perfect adaptation, down to the panel layouts, the harsh black-and-white highlights and shadows, the over-the-top dialogue and the hyperviolence. It's hard to imagine a more faithful rendition of comic into movie.  And yet I'm still left a little unrocked, even though I laughed and went "yeah" and dug what I was seeing plenty of times.

The opening credits are sensational, blasting the names of the actors on the screen with Frank Miller panels, pure candy for fans of the books to see these names hooked up with the characters we know so well, Miho, Hartigan, Marv, Nancy. We begin with a short scene, Josh Hartnett and Marley Shelton on a balcony, then we spin into Bruce Willis and Michael Madsen in the prologue of "The Yellow Bastard", Bruce as Hartigan, grizzled old cop, one day to retirement, insisting on saving the life of the little girl about to be abominated by the spoiled son of a powerful senator. Hell of a way to start a retirement, as he says several times in the narration that follows exactly in the style of the comic.

It's strange, seeing real people stand in these panels and say these lines. In some ways it feels like watching a high-school play, in that no human actors can achieve the cartoonishly over-the-top intensity of the characters from the comic. They try, in different ways they try, but only a few hit the mark perfectly, and the result often feels disjointed.

Elijah Wood is one of the dead-on bits. I knew going in that watching him kick the living fuck out of Mickey Rourke was going to be a unique pleasure, and I wasn't wrong. His Kevin is exact, Charlie-Brown-shirted wordless death, every moment he's on screen is bliss. Same goes for Powers Boothe as Roarke, exactly the evil menace and sour self-confidence of the monster of Sin City.

Mickey Rourke is almost perfect as Marv, the ugly lunk who wakes up next to dead Goldie and kills his way across the city to find out who did her. He's a huge hunk of meat, bandages and strips over his face, chomping down his pills, standing in lashing lines of stark white rain. He looks the part utterly, but Rourke holds it back slightly, gives Marv more reserve, taking emotional depth but never quite achieving Marv's mad power.

Bruce Willis and Clive Owen as Hartigan and Dwight, respectively, are solid, right in it and delivering their performances on their marks. Other performances, not so right. Some of the actors, Michael Madsen in particular, it feels like they think they're trying to be cartoonlike, bigger than life, rather than just going for the line with 100% intensity and belief. Benicio Del Toro bring slurred menace to a role that calls for lying amiability. The young actresses who make up the slate of hotties have trouble finding the right notes as well, Brittany Murphy as Shellie going the cartoonish route while Jessica Alba as Nancy, skinny little Nancy Callahan, brings little confidence to her sexuality-oozing. Only Rosario Dawson and Carla Gugino seem to noticeably nail the vibe, get the giddy absurdity of the goings-on.

For it is absurd. Sin City is megapulp, pure stylistic indulgence in hot chicks and brutal violence and hardboiled manful dialogue, pure fun in comic form. American movie audiences unfamiliar with Frank Miller's casual use of deforming violence are likely to be rather shocked at some of the things that get shot, hacked off and eaten. And its theme? That it's fun to torture people and shoot guns and get shot and get killed and blast away? Um. No comment. All I know is, I intend to own the DVD and whip it out many times to get a feel for the performances, the choices, the million and one details and correspondences it has from the comic. And, of course, to see the tits.