Review by Mark Walters

Almost all comic book fans worldwide are already familiar with Frank Miller.  Whether it be through his groundbreaking BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS books, or books like 300 and RONIN, at some point his work has come in front of their faces.  But Frank's most popular creation was his seedy film noir universe featured in the SIN CITY comics.  The storylines started out in a very sporadic fashion, appearing in brief segments inside anthology books.  But it didn't take long for Dark Horse Comics to see that Miller had a hit on his hands with these gritty characters.  Over time they released more specific mini-series and one-shots, and over the years it's all been collected more than a few times in graphic novel form.  Miller has had experience with Hollywood productions before on films like ROBOCOP 2 and 3.  But those times left a bad taste in his mouth, to the point of where Frank refused to let any of his comic stories be bastardized no matter how much money was involved.  Then Robert Rodriguez came along.  Rodriguez is known for being a director with a distinctive vision, who can get impressive things done for not a lot of money.  He also happened to love Miller's work.  Robert wanted to prove to Frank that he could do SIN CITY right, so much so that he shot a short film with big name stars just so he could illustrate his passion for the source material.  Well it worked.  Miller agreed to let Rodriguez do SIN CITY as a film, and the results are nothing short of amazing.

 The film opens with a short story, which is solely meant to set the tone for the experience we're about to have.  And this film is just that, an experience.  Those who have read the stories will know what to expect.  Those who haven't will be thrown into something unlike anything ever seen on the big screen.  The movie is broken into three different stories, which all have a few things in common, and all of which take place in Sin City.  We're given an early lead-in to one of the stories, involving a cop named Hartigan (Bruce Willis), but his tale is ultimately elaborated on last.

The first story focuses on Marv (Mickey Rourke), a large brooding man with a face like a brick.  Marv has just had an amazing night of passion with a beautiful girl named Goldie (Jaime King).  After falling asleep, he wakes to find Goldie dead, and the cops headed his way.  It's too convenient.  Marv knows this must be a setup, and sets out to find those responsible.

The second story introduces us to Dwight (Clive Owen).  He has recently started dating Shellie (Brittany Murphy), and doesn't take kindly to her old flame showing up drunk and angry.  Jack "Jackie Boy" Rafferty is the man in question, and he's less than respectful to Shellie, regardless of their current relationship status.  Dwight sees Jack as a threat, and follows him into the dangerous "Old Town" section of Sin City.  While there Jack causes trouble with the local prostitutes, and just about starts a war as a result, which Dwight gets caught in the middle of.

The final story revolves around John Hartigan.  Though the film does a good job of teasing this storyline early on, it's true meat is contained here.  Hartigan rescued an 11 year-old girl from a psycho rapist.  An act that should have made him a hero.  But this rapist was the son of a prominent city figure, and the brave act got manipulated into Hartigan becoming a patsy used to cover up what really happened.  He ends up in jail, where he spends eight long lonely years.  The girl he saved, Nancy Callahan, wrote to him for a bulk of those years, which helped keep him going.  Once he gets out, Hartigan goes to find Nancy, who is now grown up and dancing at a strip club (enter Jessica Alba).  But John realizes that his tracking down of Nancy may actually be putting her back in danger, and once again finds her life in his hands.

 

 To say that Robert Rodriguez wanted to stay faithful to the source material is truly an understatement.  This film is perhaps the most incredible interpretation of a comic book ever done.  Most of the stories are told line for line and panel for panel straight from the comics.  The visuals are exacting in every way to what those books showed.  With the exception of the strip club set, the entire film was shot on green screen, adding in digital backgrounds later.  Every character used from the comics is brought to life in exacting detail.  The casting choices are perfect for each character, and yet so impressive for a film this modest.  This film isn't just a good homage, it's a loving tribute to Miller's work.  Rodriguez was adamant about Frank receiving a co-director credit, so much so that he resigned from the Director's Guild of America to make it happen.  Considering how this movie was made, filming without sets, the finished product is incredibly impressive.  Each shot is perfectly done, taking us deep into this dark world, and allowing us to share in these characters' experiences.  The actors should be commended too.  For the most part, everyone in this movie plays it as non-glamorous as possible.  The heroes are battered and bruised, and often times pretty flawed in their own right.  The women are anything but role models, and at times come across as slightly tougher than some of the guys around them.  The violence in hardcore and in your face.  Again, this is just like the comics.  Miller always liked to slap our faces with shocking acts of violence in his stories, and every bit of that is shown here as well.

Now let's talk about the actors themselves.

Mickey Rourke as Marv.  Absolute perfect casting.  After watching this I can't even begin to imagine anyone else taking on this role.  Marv is a tortured soul, but serious tough guy.  I mean who better?!  The facial prosthetics are a little intense at first, but when you see Marv running around the alleys, or just laying in bed, it's like seeing Frank's beloved character in the flesh.  Remember how good Ron Perlman looked as Hellboy?  That's what is going on here.  Perfection.

Clive Owen as Dwight.  Cool and mysterious.  Dwight is a character we never find out too much about, but he works.  He works because he's a mystery to those around him.  Maybe he's not much of a threat, but he sure knows how to act like one.  He's cool under pressure.  Owen has fun in the role, and it's fun to watch him.  He manages to convey more power and presence in this short story than his entire screen time in KING ARTHUR.  It think it takes stories like this to show us what Clive is capable of.

Benecio Del Toro as Jackie Boy.  Wow, what a creep.  There's something to be said for playing a bad guy so well.  From the moment we see Jackie, we know he's an evil bastard.  Benecio is the very definition of sleaze.  Without even knowing much about his background, we really want to see him go down.  There's a lot of makeup on him too, to help him look more similar to the comics, but Del Toro is a strong enough actor to outshine all that.  His delivery and his eyes make this character work in a big way.

Rosario Dawson as Gail.  Okay, she's hot.  I've always thought Dawson was attractive, but seeing her play this bad girl with extreme attitude sealed the deal.  There were a few moments in her acting where the dialogue didn't quite feel natural, but this may not necessarily be her fault.  Some of those lines in the comics just don't translate smoothly on film.  But we can forgive it, because this is so unlike a normal movie, just like the comics are so unlike normal comics.

Bruce Willis as Hartigan.  It could be said that Bruce has a tendency to play disgraced cops a bit often.  I for one am very glad he took this part though.  He sells it, and it works very well in the story.  In fact his character may be the most unglamorous of all, but we want to see him win.  There's something about Willis that makes us want to see his character succeed.  Hartigan takes a beating, over and over, and keeps coming back for more.  His relationship with Nancy is sincere, and though at times a little screwed up, his intentions are admirable.

Jessica Alba as Nancy Callahan.  Hawt.  I mean come on, how incredibly smoking can one woman be?  I even heard women around me going "Dang, she's so sexy!"  While Nancy doesn't exactly have a lot to do other than look stunning, Alba definitely makes an impression.  Her longing looks at Hartigan combine elements of sexy and cute in unbelievable ways.  This is a face I would never be able to resist falling in love with.  And that's just it, we as the audience have to fall in love with her the way Hartigan does.  And oh yes, we do.

Brittany Murphy as Shellie.  It's another one of those unglamorous roles, but she's good in it.  We feel bad for her when bad things happen.  Granted, it's not a meaty part, but she's a good choice to play it regardless.  It's also nice to see her break away from that good girl image she's had lately.  We get the sense that Shellie is trouble, but still worth helping out, if for no other reason than she deserves a shot at improvement.

Elijah Wood as Kevin.  Holy crap on a stick.  I've met Elijah, and even hung out with him.  During that time we talked primarily about comics.  Elijah is a comic book fan, so I'm sure he was stoked about being in this movie.  He is so freaking great here.  The character of Kevin is simple.  He's a silent killer.  He never speaks.  And he has a cold and calculating stare that would give you nightmares for months.  Now those of you that remember Elijah as the sweet and lovable Frodo... kiss all that goodbye.  He is pure evil here.  In fact out of all the characters that have to do a lot with a little, Wood takes the taco.  Easily one of the most memorable characters in the film, and all without a single line of dialogue.

Watching this movie is like re-reading those stories, only seeing things in a whole new way.  It's just so much fun.  Now the question remains, will mainstream moviegoers who don't read comics enjoy this?  Not sure.  Personally I look at SIN CITY as a really cool ride.  Hop on and just enjoy it for what it is.  As an adaptation it's truly brilliant.  As a movie it's just exciting to watch.  The visuals are enough to keep even the most cynical folks interested.  After viewing each story I started thinking this might have worked even better as three different movies, or even a cable mini-series.  I'm sure the DVD will be a fanboy dream come true.  For now I'm anxious to take in SIN CITY again.  Movies like this don't come along very often.  My friend Jaime and I were saying this kind of looked like a DICK TRACY for adults.  In many ways this film succeeds where DICK TRACY unfortunately failed.  Warren Beatty's film had great intentions toward bringing it's source material to life on the big screen.  SIN CITY however nails it perfectly.

BIGFANBOY.com score - On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the best, I give SIN CITY a 9.


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