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Sin City
Reviewed by Kevin Pezzano, © 2005

Format: Movie
By:   Robert Rodriguez (director) and Frank Miller (co-director)
Genre:   Action
Released:   April 1, 2005
Review Date:   April 04, 2005
RevSF Rating:   10/10 (What Is This?)

"She doesn't quite chop his head off. She makes a Pez dispenser out of him." — Semi-reformed ex-con Dwight describes katana-wielding hooker Miho at work.

From now on, anyone who describes the latest superhero film as a "comic book movie" will draw my merciless mockery. Because Sin City is truly a comic book movie, bringing Frank Miller's graphic novels to brilliant life in a way that has never been seen before.

Sin City adapts three of Miller's works, The Hard Goodbye, The Big Fat Kill, and as the framing storyThat Yellow Bastard. Actually, "adaptation" is probably the wrong word to use, since most of the movie is a frame-for-panel duplication of Miller's original comics. For the first time in cinema history, a "comic book movie" makes the screen conform to the storytelling and visual style of sequential art, and not the other way around. Robert Rodriguez resigned from the Directors Guild when they refused to allow Frank Miller to get a credit as co-director, precisely because this is as much Miller's visualization of the story as it is Rodriguez'.

And my God, what visuals! Frank Miller's comic was already renowned for its artistic style, and the Sin City movie is a note-perfect reproduction of that style. It's mostly black and white (not grey-and-white, like old movies, but pitch black and shining white), so when the rare splash of color spurts across the screen it's all the more vivid in contrast. The framing of each sequence, already cinematic in Miller's original, translates unaltered to the big screen perfectly. The world the characters inhabit is a mixture of 1940s style — with grungy dockside warehouses, long trenchcoats and gothic skyscrapers — and a very modern sensibility, with cell phones, Uzis, and serial killers. Even the pacing is comic-book perfect, with heavy use of voiceovers, exaggerated movements, and action scenes that seem more like a flip-book than a live-action movie.

The violence is extremely graphic, pelting the audience with severed heads, blown-off hands, exploded torsos, spurting gunshot wounds, and more savage pummeling in two hours than in Mike Tyson's entire life. But the unremitting brutality is leavened a bit by the film's twisted humor. If you thought the "Marvin gets his head blown off" scene in Pulp Fiction was one of the most hysterical moments in a brilliantly funny movie (like I did), then you will definitely like Sin City.

Because, in the tradition of all film noir, all that twisted violence and those cynical one-liners have a purpose. Sin City is about black-and-white morality in a dirty, ugly, grimy gray world. All the characters do some pretty horrific and reprehensible things (especially Marv in the Hard Goodbye segment), but the protagonists have a code that they live by and a line they will not cross. Detective Hartigan may tear a man's genitals off with his bare hands and slit throats by the truckload, but he will sacrifice his career and life to save one little girl. Dwight will chop up the body of an undercover cop and contemplate shooting the motorcycle officer that pulls him over, but it's all in the service of preventing a larger bloodbath against the prostitutes of the city. And Marv slaughters legions of thugs, cops, corrupt priests, and mad cannibals, stacking bodies like cordwood and wading through oceans of blood, but all he wants is revenge for the underserved murder of the one woman who treated him like a lover. All the "heroes" have to be psychotic killers, because what they're up against is just so much worse.

The casting is, without exception, brilliant. Elijah Wood doesn't have a single line of dialogue in the whole film, but he's chillingly effective as a mute, cannibalistic farmboy (albeit a cute mute cannibalistic farmboy). His eyes alone sell the performance. Mickey Rourke is unrecognizable under prosthetic makeup, but he gives possibly the finest performance of his career (or at least the most entertaining). Bruce Willis is utterly believable as the grizzled, world-weary old police detective with a scar on his face and a bum ticker in his chest. Jessica Alba is screamingly hot as a 19 year old stripper with a heart of gold. And Rutger Hauer shows once again why he's one of the most underrated actors in the post Blade Runner era in his role as a demented priest. I could go on, but I think you get the point.

Sin City is a stylistic tour de force, a darkly amusing film noir tale, a brutal outpouring of violent excess, and the truest version of a comic book ever put on the silver screen. It's not at all for the squeamish or the politically correct, so be warned. But if you consider yourself any kind of sequential art connoisseur, action-movie junkie or cinemaphile, then you must see this movie.

Anime and comics editor Kevin Pezzano is a dirty man wearing a dirty trenchcoat in a dirty city doing a dirty job.

 
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