Sin City Review
By Joe Lozito
The Big Fat Thrill
If you're going to make a movie out of Frank Miller's gritty comic noir fables - which put the 'graphic' back in 'graphic novels' - you're not going to do much better than "Sin City", the gleefully gory gem from digital auteur Robert Rodriguez.
There's an odd poetry to the career of Robert Rodriguez. After breaking out as an ultra-low-budget indie director, raising $7000 to finance his 1992 revenge flick "El Mariachi", he slowly rose over the course of the next decade to the ranks of a stylized visionary taking the reins of nearly every aspect of his films. His resume reads like the ending credits of a Hollywood blockbuster - director, writer, producer, special effects artist, production designer, composer, etc, etc. Over the years, Mr. Rodriguez embraced digital filmmaking and, along with George Lucas, he's become a pioneer in this new medium. So, in a sense, he's still an independent filmmaker working outside the Hollywood system (he quit the DGA when they balked at giving Frank Miller co-directing credit on "Sin City") but now, again like Mr. Lucas, he has an arsenal of digital weaponry at his disposal. If the DGA doesn't watch out, it's in danger of becoming extinct.
However, as Sam Raimi, another digital filmmaking advocate, might say, "with great power comes great responsibility" and, up until this point, Mr. Rodriguez has been using his considerable talent behind the keyboard to create kid-friendly throwaways (The "Spy Kids" trilogy) or sub-par knock-offs ("Once Upon a Time in Mexico") - that same might be said for Mr. Lucas, but that's another story.
With the release of "Sin City", however, it's safe to say what is past is prologue to Mr. Rodriguez' finest achievement to date: using digital technology to bring to life Frank Miller's dark comic noir "Sin City". Everything we've seen from Mr. Rodriguez in the past has led up to this moment. Put simply I can say, as a fan of Mr. Miller's graphic novels, I spent most of "Sin City's" two-hour running time with a smile from ear to ear. This movie is like "Revenge of the Nerd-Directors". He even includes that trademark shot, present in nearly every comic novel, of a silhouetted, erect, perfectly square nipple. Here's a pure fanboy with the tools at his disposal to finally show Hollywood what is possible when a comic adaptation is made with intelligence and talent - and he knocks it out of the park.
Mr. Rodriguez borrows more than the dialogue and the stark black-and-white look from Mr. Miller's comics, he also takes the visceral joy of pure noir storytelling. The relentlessly dark story is balanced by the purely joyful filmmaking. And, make no mistake, this is a dark movie. Aside from being black-and-white, it also features nothing but characters scraped off the underbelly of society - ex-cons, hookers, corrupt cops, general low-lifes. But the strength of Mr. Miller's writing has always been his ability to give these bottom-feeders soul. This is nowhere more in evidence than the story of Marv (Mickey Rourke), the scar-faced bruiser out for revenge on whoever killed the one woman who showed him any kindness. Mr. Rourke surely draws from past experience here to give Marv a subterranean sadness beneath his snarling brutality.
Delivering noir dialogue is never easy, and while Mr. Rouke is the stand-out, the rest of the cast is largely up to the challenge. Clive Owen and Rosario Dawson chew the scenery to good effect in their story. Nick Stahl, Rutger Hauer and the always-reliable Benicio del Toro also make the most of their memorable roles. Strangely, the crucial role of Hartigan, the 60-ish cop "with a bum ticker," is nearly miscast. Ten years ago, Clint Eastwood would have been perfect for the part, but here it is played by Bruce Willis. While Mr. Willis would be perfect ten years from now, today he just comes off as too young. Though he keeps calling himself "old man" in voice-over, he's never looked better. Still, Mr. Willis, always a game, likable actor, furrows his brow as intensely as possible and delivers his lines with his trademark smirk.
"Sin City" is not a perfect movie, but it's easily the best we could have hoped for from a film version of a Frank Miller story. Mr. Rodriguez' love for the material is evident in every frame of the film and, of course, that can have its drawbacks too. Since Mr. Rodriguez was working with three separate graphic novels ("The Hard Good-bye", "The Big Fat Kill" and "That Yellow Bastard") with only rudimentary interconnections, there is virtually no through-line in the plot. The movie is really three separate vignettes and that gives the film an uneven pace. But despite that and a few weak performances (who keeps casting Brittany Murphy?!), "Sin City" is about as close to geek heaven as a film adaptation has ever been.