Sin City (2005)

Rating: ****
Release Date: 4/1/05
Directors: Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino
Music: Robert Rodriguez, Graeme Revell
Cast: Jessica Alba, Rosario Dawson, Elijah Wood, Bruce Willis, Benicio Del Toro, Michael Clarke Duncan, Carla Gugino, Josh Hartnett, Michael Madsen, Jaime King, Brittany Murphy, Clive Owen, Mickey Rourke, Powers Boothe, Nick Stahl, Devon Aoki, Alexis Bledel, Chelsea Bulte, Rutger Hauer, cameo by Frank Miller

Holy crap, look at that cast listing! I don't think I've ever seen so many big names together in one film before. Truly an all-star cast. "Sin City" is a thirteen year old boy's darkest fantasies come to life, and I've done author Frank Miller a great disservice by not having read the original graphic novels. It's also the film that Mickey Rourke has waited all of his life to star in, and he's absolutely perfect as Marv. Story-wise, "Sin City" is a slice-of-life tale about the noble and depraved denizens of Basin City, told in a series of disjointed, but inter-related chapters. Hard-nosed cop John Hartigan (Bruce Willis) goes up against the city's most powerful politicians by trying to protect a little girl from getting raped and mutilated by Senator Roark's sick and twisted son (superbly creepy Nick Stahl). Hartigan is framed and sent to prison, but eventually must save the girl again from the vengeful psychopath. In the interim, maniac criminal Marv (Mickey Rourke) is framed for murdering his true love, which makes him VERY angry. No one and nothing can stand in his way. Then deranged killer Dwight (sexy Clive Owen) runs into trouble with the law which puts the entire female governed community of Old Town in jeopardy. All of the separate story threads share a common theme of honor, love, violence, and political corruption. The "bad guys" are actually the heroes of these stories, driven by their own brand of honor and justice, while the church and state rule through tyranny, deceit, and betrayal.

The look of the film is outstanding, shot in noir-ish black and white with highlights of color. The cinematography is mostly conventional, and the visual effects favor style over realism. In different hands this could have been disastrous, but much like his "Spy Kids" films, Robert Rodriguez injects enough energy and passion into the sequences to truly bring them alive. While often overly melodramatic, the acting is superb and all of the actors are wonderful. Most of them play strongly against type, making it all the more delightfully perverse. The women in the film are extremely beautiful and very strong characters, much to my delight. Jessica Alba, Rosario Dawson, Jaime King, Carla Gugino, Brittany Murphy, Devon Aoki, and Alexis Bledel are utterly spellbinding to watch. The only unfortunate thing is that despite their strength and resolve, they're routinely disrespected and treated as inferior to the men in the story. The film is EXTREMELY violent, to the point of absurdity. A tribute to its comic book roots, the characters take an obscene amount of physical abuse, only to come back for more. Just how many bullets does it take to drop a man? This tends to spoil the suspension of disbelief, but it complements the over-the-top style and tone quite nicely. The film is definitely one crazy ride of adolescent testosterone fueled fantasy and angst.

While I truly admire the film on its artistic merits, I had a hard time actually enjoying it. I certainly enjoyed various parts of it immensely, but as a whole it didn't quite gel. To me it felt too Tarantino and not enough Rodriguez in its pacing and execution, which is unfortunate if you're not a Tarantino fan (such as myself). The characters are great, but it's hard to really like any of them, making the film difficult to identify with. The narrative is overly talky and wanders quite a bit, making you wonder if it's ever going to end and how things can possibly wrap up. Fortunately, they manage to tie it up quickly and cleanly, but the film has you guessing the whole time - not so much on the "how," but rather the "when." Overall, a flawed film full of exquisitely beautiful and psychologically disturbing imagery whose parts are greater than the whole. Exhilarating and disappointing at the same time, "Sin City" is definitely not for the overly sensitive or the faint of heart. If nothing else, the film is a testament to the strengths and talents of Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez, and Quentin Tarantino, and it surprises me that such a film could even be made in today's morally sanitized and politically correct climate.