I want to make something perfectly clear before we go any further: I liked Sin City, but I also didn’t like it.
Sin City is a unique, entertaining and very well made movie – the acting is fantastic, the look and feel of the film is almost perfect, the script is almost perfect, and – technically – it can’t be faulted. Which is why I liked it. On the flipside, Sin City’s characters are all criminals of some kind – prostitutes, gangsters, hired killers, thugs, murderers, strippers, corrupt cops – and the movie is ultra-violent.
The question, then, is whether the fact that it is unique and high quality film-making can redeem the violent, immoral wasteland that makes up the setting and most of the characters.
Sin City is based on a series of graphic novels by Frank Miller, and follows the exploits of characters from a fictional city, called Basin City. While there are scenes and references from many stories by Miller, director Robert Rodriguez has chosen three main stories to provide the backbone for this movie.
The first story follows Hartigan (Bruce Willis), who is a retiring cop framed for the murder and rape of 6 young girls, ending up in jail. When he is freed, he tracks down the last girl who he saved (Nancy Callahan, played by Jessica Alba) in an attempt to redeem himself – she is then kidnapped by the actual killer, leaving Hartigan as her only hope.
The second story follows Marv (Mickey Rourke), an ex-con who meets a gorgeous blond at a bar. After spending the night together, Marv awakes to find that she has been murdered, and he has been framed for it. When he decides to go after the murderer he becomes embroiled in a conspiracy to kill girls from the streets of Sin City, which eventually costs him his life.
The third story deals with Dwight (Clive Owen), who gets caught up in a gang war in Old Town, a suburb where the prostitutes run the streets with an iron fist (and samurai swords), after the murder of a police officer, which threatens to destroy the agreement between the prostitutes, the mob and the police.
This is merely the bare bones of the stories, and there are many little bits and pieces here and there which make the movie much more entertaining. This where the script comes into play, with its entertaining dialogue coming into play (lines like “I was as useful as a palsy victim doing brain surgery with a pipe wrench” are priceless), as well as the high calibre acting, making a huge difference in the watchability of the film.
As I also mentioned, this movie is ultraviolent, and each story has its own little horrific violent scene – in story 1, it’s the brutal beating of the main bad guy Roark (played by Nick Stahl), who ends up mushy (and not in a good way); in story 2 it’s the murder of Kevin (played by Elijah Wood), who ends up with no arms or legs, but is still alive; and in story 3 it is the death of Jackie Boy (played by Benicio Del Toro), who ends up on the wrong end of a gun backfiring.
The violence and subject matter is what makes this movie most unsuitable, with nude scenes and language not being any worse than you would see in the average episode of The Sopranos.
Again, the question is whether the unique style and high quality film-making can redeem the films violent side.
I say yes.
While Sin City is violent, its not unique in that aspect – mainstream movies like Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill, Lock Stock and Reservoir Dogs have been moving in that direction for years. But when you consider how Sin City was made, you have to appreciate its uniqueness, and greatness, in that aspect.
Sin City was filmed entirely in front of a green or blue screen, allowing the film-makers to add backgrounds in during post-production, effectively meaning that they could get the backgrounds exactly how they wanted them, while building an absolute bare minimum number of sets. This has also allowed director Rodriguez to give the film a unique comic-book look and feel, with some backgrounds or sets looking like plain black and white contrasting pictures, with live action characters walking through.
This is not a unique technology however – Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow was done the same way, although not to the same degree, and not as cleverly either. Rodriguez would appear to have set a new precedent for artistic movies, and I would imagine the technology will be used more and more in the coming years.
The other thing that sets Sin City apart is the colour – the whole movie is black and white, with only pockets of colour showing here and there, for example a yellow guys skin, a red dress, the blue and red lights of a police car, and so on. This is also well-done, and gives a different look to the film from the get go.
As mentioned, Sin City is violent, which takes away points, but its not “sick” or “perverted” in any way. Its just a successful translation of a comic book to film, done exactly the way the director wanted it done. I give it a 7.5 out of 10 – it’s a great film, but I just feel like having every character be morally unsound, ultraviolent, and criminal, is not really something that needs to be put to film. Yet, the style more than makes the film watchable despite this.
Whether or not THAT is a good thing is yet to be decided.