Rated: R :: Released: 01 April 2005
Directors: Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller (w/ a segment by Quentin Tarantino) :: Starring: Bruce Willis, Mickey Rourke, Clive Owen, Benicio Del Toro and Jessica Alba
By Michael David Sims
01 April 2005 — Sin City is not the greatest comic book movie ever, however, it is the greatest comic book adaptation ever. No other filmmaker — not Richard Donner, not Tim Burton, not Bryan Singer and not even Sam Raimi — has taken such gentle care of the source material, and for that Robert Rodriguez will be rightfully championed for a long, long time.
Unlike other directors who often take no more than the core idea of the property they've licensed — molding it in their own vision, adding and subtracting what they believe should and should not be part of the tale — Rodriguez altered very little when he married three of Miller's Sin City books into one cohesive universe. By using the graphic novels as the storyboards and script and involving Frank Miller in the project to the point that he became the co-director, Rodriguez guaranteed that he'd wind up with an adaptation so true to the comics that it seems as though the books literally came to life on screen. While this might put-off the average moviegoer, mostly because some of the dialog doesn't translate well, fanboys will have a glorious time reciting the lines as if they've seen the movie a dozen times already. Let's just hope it doesn't turn into The Rocky Horror Picture Show — at least not yet, anyway.
The three books Rodriguez chose to adapt — those being The Hard Goodbye, The Big Fat Kill and That Yellow Bastard — were perfect for this project, mostly because not a single one of them could carry the weight of an entire film. Not without inevitably adding material to pad it out to the required two hour cinematic experience we've grown accustomed to. (However, the ending was tacked on if only to tie the opening vignette to the overall story. And, in truth, it doesn't gel with the rest of the experience — not even the intro it's supposed to compliment. In fact, it's far too modern in this ambiguously aged noir masterpiece.) Yet, when linked together in a somewhat linear fashion, we're treated to a world where the three primary characters — those being Hartigan, Marv and Dwight — coexist but never interact. Because of this, it feels like Rodriguez was paying homage to his good buddy Quentin Tarantino (who directed the scene with Dwight and Jackie-Boy in the car), but he was simply guaranteeing that he didn't soil the source material by stretching it too thin.
The movie itself is as close to perfect as one can get. The stories are solid, the dialog (though clunky in spots, especially Michael Madsen's) somehow feels at home in this world, the woman are as deadly as they are sexy, the men are the picture of noir tough guys and the violence is harsh.
In fact, calling the violence "harsh" is a gross understatement. Again, in staying so true to the material, Rodriguez might inadvertently put-off the average moviegoer. To say that ears, hands and testicles are shot off doesn't convey how rough That Yellow Bastard is. Telling you limbs are severed, hatchets are thrust into groins and faces are smashed into walls, does little to paint how hard Marv fights to find the truth in The Hard Goodbye. And mentioning that multiple heads are lost in The Big Fat Kill just doesn't prepare you for the gore.
Some might think because the majority of the film is in black and white, so will be the blood and violence. But they would be mistaken. Color is beautifully splashed throughout the picture (no more brilliantly than the scene Tarantino directed), and is often present when violence is at hand. This dots the I, so to speak, each time someone is murdered. (What follows is not a political statement or commentary on the world in which we live.) Thanks to decades of violence presented in movies, video games and other sources of media (including the news), we, as a whole, have become rather desensitized to cinematic murder. So much so that filmmakers more often than not have to go over the top to elicit a reaction from the crowd. And though the violence within Sin City is over the top, it somehow feels more real because it is in color whereas the rest of the film is in black and white. Had Rodriguez filmed the entire picture in color, I highly doubt the crowds would react so vocally to what he has presented on screen. In fact, it's akin to watching a great wrestling match. Though you know the action is choreographed, one can't help but blurt out an unrestrained "HOLY SHIT!" when something unexpectedly violent passes before our eyes.
Because the three stories that birthed this film have already been reviewed on this site, there's little reason to do so again. Chances are that if you're reading this review you've already read the comics, seen the movie and/or intend to read the books and/or see the movie. With that in mind, you've probably read the other reviews (linked above, of course) and are familiar with the tales. So there's no real reason to rehash what's been covered before, so please forgive this writer if he doesn't outline everything from A to Z while blatantly spoiling the experience. This is one of those movies that you either want to see and will make it a point to do so, or its stylized look will turn you away long before approaching the box office. Basically, what I'm saying here is that this review won't sway your opinion either way. So telling you that Detective John Hartigan saves a little girl by taking the fall for a heinous crime, that Marv uncovers a deep conspiracy while looking for the man that murdered his lover and that Dwight might have inadvertently started a gang war while attempting to protect his friends serves little purpose. Either you knew that beforehand or you didn't, but either way it doesn't matter because the previews and word of mouth and the comics have already influenced your decision.
This review isn't here to sway you one way or the other; it's here to praise Rodriguez for his stellar adaptation, to commend the actors for their eerily uncanny performances, to warn you about the violence and to send a message to Hollywood. That message being that we're tired of lackluster adaptations that spit on the source material we so love. That message also being that we demand more adaptations by directors such as Rodriguez who actually care about the project and the characters and the creators and, most importantly, the diehard fans that have invested years of their lives into the comic books.
Above all else, comic book fanboys want to be treated with respect. That's not just respect for themselves, but respect for the fiction they so love. They want their medium taken seriously as an art form, just as novels and movies are. However, they've had little reason to celebrate until now and it's all thanks to Robert Rodriguez who came along and turned everything upside down by turning it right-side up.
Stars: 5 of 5