In recent years, there has been a steady stream of movies adapted from comic books. Never has a comic book been adapted as faithfully as Frank Miller’s “Sin City,” which has recently been released as a movie bearing the same name. Director Robert Rodriguez oversaw the production with an exacting eye for detail, and even gave up his membership in the director’s guild in order to give series creator Frank Miller co-directing credit. What emerges is a violent, poetic film noir opus – the ultimate realization of Miller’s vision.
“Sin City” weaves together three of Miller’s short stories from his comic series: “The Hard Goodbye,” “The Big Fat Kill,” and “That Yellow Bastard.” While the plotlines differ, they share common themes of obsession, revenge and quixotic quests to do what’s right in a horribly filthy world. Miller’s characters are deeply troubled killers with spotty pasts and a subconscious need to redeem themselves. It’s the stuff of the film noir movement, distilled to its essence and updated with a flashy presentation and lots of graphic violence.
The one blemish that mars this otherwise flawlessly executed picture is the performance of Rosario Dawson, whose character is described as a Valkyrie but looks like a high-schooler trying to be scary. She also fails to drum up any chemistry with love interest Clive Owen, and this becomes a problem as their relationship becomes more and more important as a thematic element.
Aside from Dawson, the movie is perfectly cast, with performances that range from very good to brilliant. Mickey Rourke steals the show as Marv, a hulking monster of a man who loves violence and yearns for human kindness. In the context of a revenge story, Rourke manages to illuminate every side of Marv’s fascinatingly complex character: his lust for violence, his guilt over said lust, his loneliness and his deep-seated fear that he’s nothing more than a monster. Also notable is Benicio del Toro as crooked cop Jack Rafferty, and Elijah Wood playing a terrifying character who never speaks. Rourke’s performance alone is worth the price of admission, but there’s plenty more going on in “Sin City.”
The look of “Sin City” is fascinating, and it’s something that’s never been done on screen before. Here too Rodriguez is unfailingly loyal to his source material, as each frame is taken directly from Miller’s drawings. Selective use of colorization in an otherwise black and white movie underscores the film’s running themes. Shots are framed like panels in a comic book, and even in action-heavy shots the action is contained by the edges of the frame. The film’s abundant gore is handled in an interesting and artistic way, so that the audience can always tell what is happening but it never looks too real.
It’s all well and good that this comic book has been faithfully adapted, but that means little if it doesn’t make for a good movie. “Sin City” does. This movie is not for the faint of heart. The characters are murderers and prostitutes who move through a world that is filthy, violent and ugly. However, through his stories, Miller reveals a beauty that lies at the heart of this world. The city, while filthy and dilapidated, is depicted in an aesthetically pleasing way. Miller’s characters, in spite of being products of this terrible city, nonetheless continue to strive for a better world when there is no hope in spite. It is because of this that an epic heroism emerges in all three of the stories. The extreme awfulness of the world throws the few good things into sharp relief. There is poetry in this juxtaposition of filth and beauty, and it is underscored expertly by the constant voice-overs provided by the main characters. Ultimately, there is hope in “Sin City,” although clinging to it might kill you.
“Sin City” is many things. Visually stunning, unfailingly clever, and unrelentingly intense. It takes joy in violence, gore and suffering. It is profane and offensive. And very, very beautiful.