If you haven’t seen Sin City yet, forget whatever it is you’re expecting from the film. The trailers and the hype will not prepare you for what is one of the best films of 2005 (and I have no problem saying that when half the year has yet to pass).
Rodriguez, the man behind the Spy Kids and El Mariachi films (the most recent being the third installment in the El Mariachi series, Once Upon A Time in Mexico), took on a whopper when he became set on doing Sin City, a series of graphic novels done by Frank Miller, who’s been involved with a few movies himself (such as the RoboCop and Punisher films). The making of this film has definitely made two things clear: these two men are passionate about their work, and Rodriguez has guts of steel. He took risks to do this film the way he wanted to do it, and he suffered some consequences in the process.
He didn’t give a damn.
Rodriguez approached Miller about co directing the film. Miller himself was very protective of his work (“I know the place. I lived there, and I know everybody there. I even know where they went to school.”). Rodriguez understood and wanted it no other way himself. Rodriguez pointed out that he didn’t want to make a movie; he wanted to make the movie into a comic. He wanted to put Miller’s Sin City onto the screen.
So Miller comes on board, but a problem soon arises. The Directors Guild of America, which Rodriguez belongs to, doesn’t want to credit Miller as co director. They want to give him the title of producer. Rodriguez’s response? He quits the guild (hopefully, they got a nice view of his backside as he turned and walked out the door). He lost several things in doing this. One, the chance to direct the big budget film A Princess of Mars, and the other to expand his Austin operation. Also, he could no longer work as a director for hire.
Rodriguez didn’t shed any tears. He does a good enough job using his own material, and he is a Renaissance man. He writes, directs, composes, produces, etc. Most importantly, he wanted Miller in, and Miller was going to be in no matter what. How often do we see such dedication to preserving the writer’s exact vision of his/her story?
To help “take cinema and try to make it into this book,” Rodriguez tossed the idea of a screenplay and decided to shoot everything right off the pages of the books. He figured that since it worked so well on paper, why not on screen? Sin City is black and white, with little shots of color here and there. Lipstick and eyes are sometimes shown in their true shades. Blood is shown red and fresh in some shots; at other times it’s neon yellow. Sometimes blood, Hartigan’s tie, Nancy’s lasso, and other random articles are brightened up so they look ultra bright. What I noticed and probably appreciated the most was the camera work. Whether it's a simple still of a face or a sweeping shot of one of the many classic and crazy car chases, the angles are solid. All of these components are beautiful touches that make Sin City a film noir that stands out from any other. Guest director Quentin Tarantino said it best: “When I saw it, it just looked so amazing,” he raved.
At first, it looks as if the movie is going to jump back and forth between stories (which usually works for most films), but it doesn’t (which works in this case). You get a nice glimpse into Sin City and each of the protagonists’ lives before getting plunged in Marv’s story, "The Hard Goodbye." Marv, played by Mickey Rourke, wakes up to find the only girl who ever gave him the time of day lying dead in bed next to him. Marv is out for vengeance, and he will turn anyone inside out and beyond to get it. Rodriguez wanted no one else but Rourke to play the character. “It’s almost like Frank Miller gave birth to him,” Tarantino remarked. “He drew Marv and created an actor who could play Marv.” As for Rourke, he had a ball with his role. Marv does some sick stuff to people, but he does it for the love of a dead hooker. It may not sound that sentimental, but it really is.
Then it’s on to Mr. Clive Owen, who was in King Arthur and Closer, two films I have not seen and have no desire to see. Thus, I didn’t think much about Owen until I saw him in action as Dwight in "The Big Fat Kill." Oh Mr. Owen, I shall never doubt again. "The Big Fat Kill" was probably my favorite part because it was packed with everything, so much so that it’s very outrageous and very thrilling. The big baddie in this storyline is Jackie Boy (a wicked job done by Benicio Del Toro), and the story quickly escalates after Dwight plunges Jackie’s head into a toilet to get him to stop harassing Shellie (a nice and sassy performance done by Brittany Murphy). All of a sudden things have taken a very dramatic turn, and Old Town and its prostitute residents are in big trouble. There’s a lot of chaos and shooting and women with weapons in this segment, and it’s all hot, and I don’t care if you’re into that stuff or not. It’s hot. The femme fatales are sexy and violent, and THEY WILL GET YOU. Rosario Dawson really impressed me with her role as the feral and fierce Gail, but my favorite mamma jamma would have to be Devon Aoki, who plays petite assassin Miho. "Deadly little Miho," Dwight calls her, and there is no better description. She's cute, she's mute, and she slices and dices people into pieces while keeping her face devoid of any emotion the whole time. I adored her.
Last but not least, we resume from where we left poor Hartigan off in the beginning of the film, when he was spending his last hours before retirement trying to save little Nancy Callahan from Roark Jr. Junior is pretty much a sicko, but he’s also the senator’s son, so he gets away with the deranged stuff he’s been pulling. Hartigan ends up saving Nancy, but in doing so he gets injured and lands in prison for being accused of raping her. Eight long years later, Hartigan once again finds himself fearing for Nancy’s safety, and he goes out to find her, not finding out until it’s too late that he’s been set up to lead Junior back to her. "That Yellow Bastard" is probably the heaviest of the stories, thanks largely to stellar performances by Jessica Alba as Nancy and Bruce Willis as Hartigan. Granted, Alba's fierce with the lasso and the cowboy outfit and the hips, but she does way more than bop around on the stage. One of my absolute favorite scenes in the movie is when she recognizes Hartigan; the look on her face is heart wrenching. Willis not only pulls off a character that you automatically want to root for, but also one that you sympathize with.
Every actor and actress in existence today was in this film. Ok, not really, but there is a pretty nice chunk of well-known names here. What sometimes happens in films that have so many stars, however, is that the story usually gets diminished. So much hype is generated over “Oh man, everyone’s in this!” that when the movie comes out, many walk out feeling major disappointment. Not so with Sin City. Rodriguez and Miller manage to take a load of actors and weave them into three distinct stories, all of them incorporating intense concepts of violence, love, deception, torture...the list really does go on. Each story, along with its main protagonist, shares a common theme. The heroes in this film aren’t exactly good all the way (although Hartigan might be an exception, being “an honest cop, which is a rare thing in Sin City”), but there’s no squeaky clean sense of justice going on here. There is no satisfaction with shooting the baddie and going, “Yay, wrong has been righted.” No, the protagonists have their own twisted ways of finishing off whomever, which is ok because most will agree the bad guys had it coming.
“People showed up who looked like my drawings,” Miller remembers when casting started. Does anyone suck in this film? Not at all. Big role or not, all the actors do their roles beautifully, and many of them surprised me with how well they did. The interaction is intense and comical and emotional. Even simple, quiet scenes like Dwight and Miho simply staring at each other while he goes to make a call are intense. Every character that pops up is a memorable one, even if some are of the queasy, twitchy, “Dear God, do not let me have nightmares of this guy” kind. Hello Mr. Elijah Wood. I can never look at you quite the same again. You scared the hell out of me in this movie. You were a creepy creepy creepy sicko. I didn’t think you’d ever make me cringe in my seat and go, “Mommy.” Thank you for putting me through major trauma.
A moody and bold soundtrack (courtesy of Rodriguez, Grahme Revell, and John Debney) was composed with themes for each storyline. There is a good chunk of jazz elements in the tracks , but there are other little niceties in here and there. The strings are crazy, going back and forth between low and somber to high and hair raising. The hot number overall is, without a doubt, Marv’s theme, a heavy bass number accompanied by a steady drumbeat and some brass which pops up several times throughout the film. Add in the hot techno number "Absurd" that Nancy shakes around to (courtesy of Fluke), and you have a soundscape that fits perfectly with Sin City. The sound effects in the film are also top notch. The punches are enough to make you wince, and what you hear when people are being tortured, hacked, or eaten is quite stomach turning.
I’ve been reading other reviews of this movie and noticed that it’s getting criticized for a) having a lot of style but not much else and b) having no heart. This has led me to the conclusion that these people had blindfolds and earplugs on when they went to the theater. Of course the movie’s stylish, but it’s way more than the visual. The heart is in every frame, in every snippet of dialogue, in every look exchanged between characters. Sin City is violent and dark and outrageous, but it's obvious why its heroes are doing what they’re doing. It’s all in the name of love and protecting those they hold dear. Kind of makes you want to cry, doesn't it?