Film — Sin City (R)

Sin City (R)

By Amy Diaz

A who’s who of youngish Hollywood and two of the best action directors alive (Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino) bring the stories of Frank Miller’s graphic novel series alive in Sin City, the most comic book of comic book movies.

Unlike, say, Spider-Man or X-Men, Sin City not only keeps the action and plot of its comic book but also the look and style. The movie is shot in black and white, but not the shadow-filled black and white its noir-ish subject matter would suggest. This is the pen-and-ink look of the frames of Miller’s novels. Splashes of color — blood, lipstick, a woman’s eyes — accentuate the glossy brilliance of a black-and-white technique that somehow allows every image to jump off the screen. Without the pop-up book effect of a traditional three-dimensional movie, Sin City achieves the 3-D look.

The story told in the movie encompasses several books in the graphic novel series. We get three tales of men, their woman and the vice that rules Basin City along with the powerful Roark family. The tales don’t necessarily intertwine but they brush up against each other, like trenchcoat wearing strangers in a bar. We get the story of the hulking, monster-like Marv (Mickey Rourke) who, despite a frightening appearance and a penchant for violence, has a heart-breaking softness touched by the beautiful Goldie (Jamie King), a woman he meets, sleeps with and then wakes up to find dead in his bed. He spends the rest of his life in a crescendo of violence (one that includes cutting the limbs off a serial killer (Elijah Wood)) to avenge the woman who gave him one night of tenderness and joy.

Then there’s the story of a cop nearing the end of his last day on the job. Detective John Hartigan (Bruce Willis) is a decent cop in a city of sin and corruption — the worst of which allows Junior (Nick Stahl) to get away with the rape and murder of several little girls because his father is a powerful senator and his uncle is an even more powerful cardinal (Rutger Hauer). Hartigan takes him on, getting himself shot in the process and finding out that he will have to fight nearly the entire city to keep Nancy, an 11-year-old potential victim, safe.

And then there’s Dwight (Clive Owen), the sneaker-wearing boyfriend of a floozy waitress, friend of a gang of prostitutes and a man with vigilante tendencies. When his girlfriend’s (Brittany Murphy) ex-boyfriend (Benicio Del Torro, playing the sleaze for all he’s worth) roughs her up, his attempts to set things right spirals out of control until Dwight finds himself in a war between the cops, the mob and the prostitutes. And these girls are no ordinary ladies of the night. Led by the warrior-like Gail (Rosario Dawson) these women pack heat and rule their neighborhood. When provoked, their justice is swift and deadly.

Sin City is simply fantastic. The action is top-notch — bloody, extravagant and, to the very last drop of blood, absolutely necessary. Every shot is worthy of framing — from the composition to the startlingly crisp look of the black and white and spot color. The acting is as stylized as the look of the film but perfectly modulated to fit the tone of the story so that nobody — not Bruce Willis, not Jessica Alba, not Brittany Murphy — ever descends into camp.

Frank Miller along with Rodriguez and Tarantino (who is listed as a guest director) gets a directors credit, which is perhaps why the movie holds remarkably close to the feel of the books as well as the stories. This movie may not be the best movie of the year — though it is certainly the most fun I’ve had in a movie so far in 2005 — but it is absolutely the best of what it is.

- Amy Diaz

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