Maverick independent filmmaker Robert Rodriguez co-directs this hard-boiled comic book adaptation of “Sin City” with its author, Frank Miller. Blood runs white, red, and in one case, yellow as Rodriguez weaves three hyper-violent tales, each with a different damaged anti-hero looking for retribution, all set in the testosterone-charged and super-corrupt world of Basin City.
The opening scene aptly sets the mood and succinctly sums up the concept of the entire film. An unnamed assassin woos a beautiful girl high on a rooftop. You’re tired, tired of running from something, he says. She admits it and cries, they embrace and kiss. Then he tells her everything will be all right as he quietly shoots her through the heart with his silencer on and cradles her until she dies. Doom enshrouds this absurd and shadowy locale, and there is only one way out.
Bruce Willis, Clive Owen, and Mickey Rourke (under a thick amount of make-up) play the three main tough guys who also have scarred pasts, and are catapulted into stupid and futile missions in order to save saintly women, often at the expense of their own sorry lives. With the exception of Owen, the macho men of “Sin City” speak in a rumbling, gruff tone that matches the film’s stark, mostly black-and-white imagery. Willis is as internal as ever, and Rourke is even able to inject some humor into the lively, yet grim proceedings.
Benicio del Toro is up to his usual trick of turning a small part into a memorable one, as his character goes from typical brute to a hilarious figment of Owen’s paranoia. The women are tough as well (especially Rosario Dawson), uniformly projecting an air of authority, even in this fantasy world where they are mostly relegated to playing hookers or victims. The dialogue itself slithers off the actor’s tongues, crackling like a modern-day Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler and mixing classic hard-nosed terms with more modern references.
Like “Pulp Fiction,” directed by Quentin Tarantino (who helmed one scene in the film), Rodriguez and Miller overlap the timeline of their stories. That non-chronological element, however, doesn’t hold the dramatic weight that it did in “Pulp Fiction” and is merely a sidebar to the movie’s real priority– a consistently fantastical visual tone and style. Flashes of color strategically illuminate a character’s eyes or the color of his skin (as is the case with the pedophile Yellow Bastard, played by Nick Stahl), but otherwise Rodriguez has achieved a unique look that mirrors Miller’s comic by removing most of the black-and-white photography’s gray shading. Frames were also taken directly from the graphic novels and used as actual storyboards. The effect is stunning, as the literal translation of one medium to another produces an uncompromising assault on the senses.
“Sin City” elucidates tried and true themes of the film noir canon like isolation and desperation. Although they seem outwardly confident and aggressive, the film’s characters are inwardly lost, sharing in the sense of a world that is spiraling out of their control. How they react to that feeling determines which side of the law they come down on, but it is all relative in a town where the cops, the church, and the Mafia all work together.
At just over two hours, “Sin City” drags a slight bit before the third act, but is not long before it is back in your face. The filmmakers have done more than make a pretty piece of rousing entertainment. Using a comic book as a template rather than merely a guide, Rodriguez and Miller have fused fantasy and noir to create a truly enveloping film-going experience.