Sin City
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Sin City

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There are few film genres that are as versatile as film noir, dark film. With its moody lighting, urban setting and cynical characters film noir has undergone many changes since it first became popular in the forties. Previous variations include sci-fi noir such as Blade Runner and Dark City or even neo-noir with films like Wild Things. Now, graphic novel noir has come to the screen with Frank Millerís Sin City and the genre could not be better represented. This film contains three self contained yet inter-related stories all of which are directly from the pages of the successful Frank Miller graphic novels.

In the first story "The Hard Goodbye" we met Marv, played by an almost unrecognizable Mickey Rourke. He awakens next to a hooker (Jamie King) and vows to avenge her murder. He is somewhat added by his lesbian and often partially clothed parole officer Lucille (Carla Gugino). Marv runs across the cannibalistic killer Kevin (Elijah Wood) who likes to snack on the flesh of his victims prior to mounting their heads among his trophies. While all three stories contain the classic film noir narration Rourke is particularly powerful with his. Rourkís words have the punch and power that Marv displays with his fists in the ring.

The next story line is "That Yellow Bastard". Bruce Willis plays John Hartigan, an ostensibly good cop that saves a young girl (Makenzie Vega) from pedophile rapist and winds up doing time in jail. The real rapist is Roark Jr, (Nick Stahl) more commonly known as the Yellow Bastard due to his yellow complexion. He is the son of a rich and powerful Senator masterfully played by Rutger Hauer. The girl has now grown into a beautiful young woman Nancy (Jessica Alba) who dances in a sleazy bar partially dressed as a cowgirl. Nancy has a crush on Hartigan, one that can not be reciprocated.

"The Big Fat Kill" is the third and final story presented in the film. This time the audience is shown a war brewing between the corrupt cops and a violent band of street walkers. Jackie Boy (Benicio Del Toro), a cop completely devoid of any redeeming qualities comes to grip with Dwight (Clive Owen) over a pretty waitress, Shellie (Brittany Murphy). Brought into the fray is Gail (Rosario Dawson), the leather clad dominatrix who leads the band of prostitute assassins. Among her gang is the silent but deadly Miho (Devon Aoki) who wields a weapon that can take a manís head clean off his shoulders.

Sin City is set in a dingy town where it is always the middle of the night. The sun seems to never shine, shadows are everywhere and danger is always just around the corner. There are no truly noble people here. Sure, some characters have some traits that are admirable but they are all seriously flawed people. Motives are as black and white as the scenes. Revenge is to be had, passions must be sated and lusts fulfilled. Most of the men are cold and calculating, the women scheme to extend their power at all costs. This is a place where the worse human beings possible have their nightmares realized. This is also one of the most violent films ever. Life is cheap and taken in the most brutal methods possible.

While the stories are the things nightmares are made of the actors create a dream cast. Each actor gives a powerful performance that hits the audience in the gut over and over. Bruce Willis is one of the few actors here that plays a role similar to other parts he has taken on. In a way he is similar to his role in Pulp Fiction, a rough man with a certain code of honor. Since Mickey Rourke has taken time away from the screen to box his portrayal of Marv is natural to him. He portrays Marv as a man with almost super human strength on a mission of vengeance. To his credit Rourke displays emotions even through the heavy, concealing makeup employed here. While most people will forever remember Elijah Wood as the brave young hobbit here he is completely believable as a cannibalistic serial killer. He is as creepy here as he was admirable in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, definitely not a performance geared towards the same audience as his prior work. Benicio Del Toro has the right look and mumbling dialogue to play the corrupt cop. He wears his part with ease, fitting into like a favorite pair of shoes. Rosario Dawson may have the beautiful looks that would attract most men but here there is a tough and dangerous edge to her performance. She exudes the confidence and power that the head of a gang of killers needs. There are many smaller roles that are also perfectly cast although hearing the names most people would not expect to see them in a film such as this. Alexis Bledel is a long way from Starís Hollow and her portrayal of the cute and smart Rory Gillmore. Here she is a hooker that you would be wise not to cross. Jessica Alba has talent as an actress and here she gets to show some of it, along with a tightly toned figure. The actress playing her younger self, Makenzie Vega, is the kid sister of Alexa Vega, start of the directorís more family friendly Spy Kids Saga. Also from Spy Kids is Carla Gugino, who smolders the way a film noir vixen should. Performing against a digital set is difficult but every actor here not only meets the challenge they exceed it.

Director Robert Rodriquez is not a man that feels obliged to follow the rules set by others. Because of this he is willing to take chances in his work. He is best known for two genres on complete opposite sides of the film spectrum. On one hand he does family films like the Spy Kids flicks and more recently Lava Boy and Shark Girl. He also is responsible for some of the more violent films around like El Mariachi, Desparato and From Dusk Ďtill Dawn. He is also friends with fellow blood bath director Quentin Tarentino, who he got to direct a scene in Sin City. Tarentino has been known as a director that preferred film to the new digital camera work. Rodriquez gave his pal a chance behind the digital camera here and the scene that resulted is seamless in its integration. The novel thing about this film is most of the acting was digitally filmed in front of a green screen with the sets placed later by computer. While this was done in Sky Captain that work pales to the use this technique finds here. While the film is in black and white there are objects in color, emphasizing the visceral impact of the work. While many films are made from comic books, or more accurately, graphic novels, Rodriquez utilized the works of Frank Miller as the filmís storyboards, an almost frame by frame recreation of the powerful graphic novels. Rodriquez demanded that Miller be given co-directing credit and when The Directors' Guild of America refused to permit it Rodriquez went rouge and resigned from the organization.

Buena Vista presents this film without the usual bells and whistles of most major releases. This film is unique enough that it can stand without the usual extras. It would have been great to have some commentary tracks but we may have to wait for a special edition for that treat. The video is in a crisp 1.85:1 anamorphic, as mentioned most is black and white with a splash of color, just as is found in the Miller graphic novels. The Dolby 5.1 audio has power beyond what most films have. The surround field pulls you into this dark world filled with the sounds of a city in ruin. You can almost feel each punch as if you where on the receiving end. This film is not for the squeamish, it is violence taken to an almost unheard of limit. Still, the presentation is what matters here. Most films that attempt to use style to this degree fail but here it makes the film.

Posted 7/21/05

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