Montreal Film Journal

FRANK MILLER'S SIN CITY

"The night is hot as hell. Everything sticks. It's a lousy room in a lousy part of a lousy town. The air conditioner's a clanking piece of junk that couldn't keep a drink cold if you sat it right on top of it."

Narration can be a lazy storyteller's crutch. It can also be a succinct and effective way to set a mood, to establish a tone, an attitude. What would film noir be without cynical voice-over, right? And if anything, "Sin City" is pure film noir. It's got the antiheroes, the femmes fatales, the cruel twists of faith, the expressionist B&W cinematography and yes, the cynical narration.

"Sin City" is a proud heir of 1940s film noir, but it's also kind of a bastard offspring, i.e. it can get away with way more than folks could back then as far as frank sexuality and gritty violence go. Not that it's only an exercise in style and excess. While I wouldn't call it deep, there's a vast amount of pathos to the characters and a general sense of the world and human nature at their worst.

"I've been framed for murder and the cops are in on it. But the real enemy, the son of a bitch who killed the angel lying next to me, he's out there somewhere, out of sight, the big missing piece that'll give me the how and the why and a face and a name and a soul to send screaming into hell."

A guy like Marv (Mickey Rourke) is your worst nightmare. He's a macho pig and he knows it. He's all about back alleys and titty bars, a shot and a brew, with a couple of pills for good measure. He knows trouble inside and out, he's done his time, he knows how it feels to beat somebody into a pulp and he's often been on the other end of a beat-down as well. He's not sure he deserves to still be breathing, but fuck with him and he'll gladly leave all existential queries aside and devote all his attention to getting bloody satisfaction. He enjoys a nice coat, too.


"You've got to prove to your friends you're worth a damn. Sometimes it means dying. Sometimes it means killing a whole lotta people."

Dwight (Clive Owen) has also seen his share of action, but that's nothing compared to what he's about to experience. Getting away with murder and escaping the police can be a bitch, but it's nothing compared to being caught on the brink of all-out war between the cops, the mob and the whores of Old Town!

"I take his weapons from him. Both of them."

As for Hartigan (Bruce Willis), he might be the last honest cop in Sin City. He knows the Roark family controls the town, he knows how deep their lies and bribes run, but when Senator Roark's son (Nick Stahl) kidnaps and threatens to rape a little girl, Hartigan must put a stop to it, even if it costs him everything.

"Sin City" is an adaptation of the graphic novels by Frank Miller, who just might be the most influential of all comic book writers. Did I say ‘adaptation'? Robert Rodriguez who, according to the opening credits, "shot and cut" (!) the film, calls it a ‘translation', and one can see why. The movie is amazingly faithful to the source material, as if Miller's high-contrast panels had come to life.

The books' extended gallery of characters are portrayed by one of the best ensemble cast in recent memory. The three leading men are perfect, from Bruce Willis' over-the-hill hard-boiled detective to Clive Owen' rugged ladies man and especially Mickey Rourke, unrecognizable but gloriously entertaining as big bad Marv. Elijah Wood, Michael Clarke Duncan, Michael Madsen, Powers Booth, Nicky Katt (who just about steals the film), Rutger Hauer and Benicio Del Toro's head (!) all manage to leave their mark on smaller parts.



And then there's the women... I don't wanna sound like a dirty old man, but man! there's some hot tail in this film! There's something for every taste: the blonde whore (Jaime King), the hard-bodied dyke (Carla Gugino), the S&M fetish queen (Rosario Dawson), the blue-eyed girl-next-door type (Alexis Bledel), the slutty barmaid (Brittany Murphy), the stripper with a heart of gold (Jessica Alba), the deadly Asian knockout (Devon Aoki)...

"Sin City" is a relentless assault on the senses, jam-packed with stylish visuals, great lines, hard-boiled men, dangerous babes, over the top violence and a surprising amount of hearty laughs. I'm definitely seeing this again soon.

3/23/2005