Robert Rodriguez succeeds mightily in bringing Frank Miller’s Sin City to the big screen
As a bass line pulses like bad blood, a dame in a ruby-red cocktail dress stares down from a balcony into the black-and-white abyss of a decayed deco cityscape. A proto-noir voiceover introduces us to Basin City, a world of borderline anarchy where men are battle-scarred sociopaths butting heads over barely clad refugees from a fetish magazine.
With its two-fisted film-noir milieu that owes its dirty little soul more to Mike Hammer than Philip Marlowe, Sin City is a blood-drenched cinematic dime novel so hardboiled that it is yeggshell to the core. It is also the loveliest disease to hit the screen in years.
Taking a page from the innovative narrative structure of Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino is billed here as a “special guest director"), Sin City is an anthology of barely connected stories from Frank Miller’s graphic novel of the same name. It is book-ended by not one, but two vignettes, one of which features Bruce Willis as a good cop drowning in a pool of corruption, who on his last day on the force sticks his neck out to rescue a little girl from a sadist.
Other stories involve Marv (a barely recognizable Mickey Rourke in perhaps his best role ever) as a vengeance-bent ogre in pursuit of those responsible for the murder of a beautiful woman who had shown him momentary kindness, and Dwight (Clive Owen), a mental case back in town with a new face who risks his newly acquired anonymity to help a squadron of fishnet-clad hookers protect their turf from the mob and corrupt cops.
Sin City is the latest venture by maverick director Robert Rodriguez in what is seemingly the future of cinema, digital video. “Shot and cut” by Rodriguez with what are essentially high-end camcorders, Macintosh computers and Apple software, Sin City is a revelation. Ferociously faithful to the source material (Rodriguez resigned his membership in the Directors Guild of America to co-direct with Miller, shared credits being against the guild’s rules), Sin City unfolds like opening the cover of the novel and not having to turn another page as the images are made flesh and spring to life.
Of course, most of the characters are short-lived, cut down in a constant barrage of decapitations, dismemberments, disembowelments—almost everyone gets dissed here.
Sin City is a sprawling, brutal effort that succeeds on every level, although appreciation of same will certainly depend on one’s tolerance for themes that include over-the-top mayhem, pedophilia, cannibalism and a retrograde view of women as eye-candy, albeit candy from strangers laced with razorblades.