Thanks to friends with connections, I caught a preview screening of Sin City (IMDB) tonight at the local ultra-plex, and quite enjoyed the film’s brutal, high-adrenaline, sensory-overload take on forties noir. Co-directors Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller (whose graphic novels were the film’s source) have crafted a pulpy, excessive film that is among the most gratifying comic book adaptations I can remember seeing. The film is a loosely connected set of vignettes that present three of Miller’s Sin City novellas, a la Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. Formally, this works pretty well, as each of the stories comment on the brutality of Basin City and the characters who inhabit it, but as an adaptation, it serves the material well, as I’m not sure that any of the stories could have carried a feature film very well by itself.
What I enjoyed most about this particular adaptation was the adptation of graphic novel to the big screen, with the panels from Frank Miller’s graphic novels serving as storyboards for the films. The result is a film that looks like a comic book, completely with shots featuring black-on-white silhouettes and Miller’s characteristic extreme close-ups. The heavy rainstorms in Basin City, the setting for all of the film’s narratives, were well done, with rain taking on a weightiness that seems to come straight from Miller’s pages. I haven’t read any of the Sin City volumes in several years, but Rodriguez and Miller’s visuals vividly brought back those images to me as I watched the film.
The narratives are the stuff of forties pulp fiction (and, yeah, QT directed at least one segment in the film). Some reviewers make reference to Dashiell Hammet and Raymond Chandler, but Miller’s books and the film they’ve inspired remind me of the more brutal noir associated with films like Robert Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly and Joseph Lewis’s The Big Combo. The voice-over narration, supplied by the vignette’s three main protagonists, played by Bruce Willis, Mickey Roarke, and Clive Owen, wittily plays with the cliches of those detective novels and films.
I realize the film might be read as affirming certain gender stereotypes. Many of the storylines wouldn’t be entirely out of place in the noir world I’ve mentioned, but the stylized images constantly remind us that we’re being taken for a ride. The black-and-white shots, with occasional bursts of color–red blood, an evil baddie’s yellow skin–convey the film’s self-awareness about the world we’re watching. I’m probably being a little generous to the film, but tonight I needed a popcorn flick badly, and Sin City served me well.