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Sin City

Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller unleash a monster of a film that will satisfy comic loving fanboys of the world while knocking those unfamiliar with Miller’s noir-esque “Sin City” for an unexpected loop. Part love letter. Part experiment. Sin City is all main-lined adrenal overload. This film is a black and white dreamscape covered in blood, sweat, and risk.

Risk is what Rodriguez does best. His top work has always maintained a certain kinetic energy. It’s only when he’s comfortable that his work painfully shows weaknesses in plot. With Sin City, (to crib from Marv) “There is no settling down! This is blood for blood and by the gallons. This is the old days, the bad days, the all or nothing days. They're back!” and at times it feels as if Rodriguez has been teleported back to the “do or die” mindset of the medical experiment funded El Mariachi.

Each Hi Def frame pulsates in contrasted tones. It’s masterfully bleak, sullen, and packing the weight of a sledgehammer. Sin City is unrelenting from start to finish, pulling from three of Miller’s “Sin City” graphic novels, crafting a yarn from three very different pulp heroes residing in Basin City. The framing is uncanny and the dialogue is verbatim in most places, while tightly extracting all unnecessary aspects for sake of time, consolidation, and coherence.

Yes that is correct. The word “coherence” was just attributed to a Robert Rodriguez film. In fact, the last thing expected from Sin City was sound structure.

It would seem that, in Miller, Rodriguez has found the missing variable in his guerilla filmmaking formula. To call him a “style over substance” guy is an understatement as his ability to string together action sequence after action sequence has often carried him from project to project. The trouble is, chain linked action does not an intriguing film make.

With Sin City, Miller provides the depth behind the panache, and what results is a film that lives and breathes all on its own. Sure, Miller’s text is a one-note tune to the beat of noir infused nihilism, but what results is of more substance and life than any of Rodriguez’s previous efforts combined.

Miller isn’t simply paying homage to one specific style or genre here, he is fusing together the “comic book” and the “pulp novel.” Amalgamation such as this can easily fail because it is nearly impossible to please fans of both genres at once. Those familiar with classic noir such as Out of the Past, Asphalt Jungle, and Farewell, My Lovely would ever expect comic super heroism rolled up with noir aesthetic.

The “Sin City” graphic novels steep in this very concept, serving as blueprints for the film, and actually more as storyboards than mere adaptive material. Atypical comics were not commonly filled with the grit of noir and pulp; that is, until Miller begin infusing characters like Daredevil and Batman with qualities mirroring protagonists like those created by Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Jim Thompson, and James Cain.

Bottom line, this is one of the goriest high charge films in some time, and the film borrows to new depths with each brutal turn. Uninitiated audiences will not feel left behind, as they were likely primed for Sin City with Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill. Tarantino holds a “guest director” credit here, although which sequence was his is neither important nor distinguishable.

The playful grim coated banter of noir pulp dramas can either flow or flop in the wind, but this cast manages to pull it out. The most standout of the lot is Mickey Rourke who, donning facial prosthetics enhancing both chin and brow, plays the streetwise toughie named Marv with an enthralling buzz of energy that sadistically takes hold of the audience and never relents, all the way up to the bitter end.

Rourke’s delivery meshes seamlessly with Rodriguez’s precision pacing which always remains in tandem with Miller’s text. It’s easy to see that Sin City succeeds solely due to the dedication of all those involved. Re-read the sequence between Marv and the Priest (played by Miller himself) after screening the film and you’ll realize that this sequence exists on-screen just as it does on the page.

Jessica Alba is perfect as Nancy Callahan, a stripper with a stained past and a love that is both wrong and endearing at once. Alba brings life to what could have felt like a simple, two-dimensional Nancy. Many will claim that Benicio Del Toro was wasted as Jack Rafferty. Truth is, watching Benicio lose himself in this character, as loathsome as he is, is haunting. Willis carries himself well as Hartigan, a due to retire cop with angina-like symptoms.

Nick Stahl fits, as the slippery and greasy Junior Roark, a villain whose possible existence is enough to make one shudder. One case of doubtful casting was Elijah Wood’s turn as a feral cannibal killer named Kevin. Wood’s performance is spot on, blending together futile despair with downright creepy sentiment. Their fates are as gruesome as they come, and even more deserved. These two villains mirror the more political corruption and greed of Basin City with visceral depravity of morals and mores of “civilized” culture.

Miller’s Basin City houses not only corrupted politicians whose wealth provides the power to write laws, but also the socially disturbed who physically prey on innocence. It’s not enough that these two extremes of evil exist independently. No, the true horror lies in the ties between the two, the suggestion that one perpetuates the other, and the implication that, more often than not, these two forces get the upper hand on the rest of us.


Mario Anima

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