Sin City

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.

14 Comments »

  1. Chris Martin Said,

    March 30, 2005 @ 10:59 am

    How was the acting in the film? I saw the preview and I cringed a few times, especially when it came to watching Josh Hartnett. I though the stylized nature of the film looked interesting, but the acting made me doubt that it was worth watching.

  2. Buzz Said,

    March 30, 2005 @ 11:03 am

    This film looks fascinating. Thanks for the review, I didn’t realize it was divided into three stories. Now the use of three different directors makes a little more sense.

  3. Chuck Said,

    March 30, 2005 @ 12:22 pm

    Josh Hartnett’s sections of the film are rather brief–he’s only on-screen twice, and his sections were probably the weakest in terms of content and acting. The voice-over was sometimes cheesy, but I think that was intentional and fit with the film’s playful style. In fact, I really enjoyed Mickey Roarke and Bruce Willis in their roles. Rutger Hauer was also sufficiently creepy.

    In terms of direction, Miller and Rodriguez collaborated throughout, and Tarantino’s direction was apparently limited to a single scene, although I haven’t been able to confirm which scene is his. The three story structure is a lot like Pulp Fiction, with a series vignettes rather than full narratives. I’m a little less enthusiastic about Sin City this morning, but it’s very much in the spirit of Rodriguez’s other films.

  4. AA Said,

    March 31, 2005 @ 11:18 am

    A special preview screening! and at an ultra-plex (definitely the setting to see a movie like this — big screen, super sound, stadium seating, oh yeah.) I’m so jealous right now. What was the screening for? Local media, or for employees at the theater, something like that?

    Have been looking forward to this movie for a while –

  5. Chuck Said,

    March 31, 2005 @ 11:48 am

    It was a preview for a local radio station–listeners with a “Freeloaders Card” could get two passes. Luckily my friends liten to that radio station more often than I do. The connections weren’t really *that* deep….

    Stadium seating, super sound, etc, was all really nice, even though the theater itself reminds me of a low-rent casino. Definitely a fun movie, very enjoyable on the big screen.

  6. chuck Said,

    April 2, 2005 @ 12:11 am

    i saw the movie tonight, it was pretty good, parts of it seemed a little ridiculous tho, the attitude of the comics didn’t transfer over into the film all the way. jsut out of curiosity, what stories did josh hartnett’s character come from? i’ve only read hte first 4 volumes so thats why i ask

  7. Chuck Said,

    April 2, 2005 @ 11:18 am

    I’m not sure where Hartnett’s story came from (in fact it seemed artificially added to the film as a means of “unifying” the stories). I’ve only read one of the “Sin City” stories….

    I’m a little less enthusaistic about the film than I was when I first saw SC, but for the most part, I still enjoyed it.

  8. Michael Said,

    April 3, 2005 @ 3:18 am

    I saw Sin City tonight with some friends and was impressed with the relentlessness of its story telling.

    And I believe Tarantino only directed the car scene with Clive Owen and Benicio Del Toro on the way to the pits.

  9. Chuck Said,

    April 3, 2005 @ 10:01 am

    Michael, I’d heard something similar about Tarantino’s role in the direction.

  10. Nikki Said,

    April 8, 2005 @ 7:55 pm

    Tarantino did the scene in the car between Jackie Boy and Dwight (if you’ve seen it, the very surreal one). And apparently Harnett’s character was The Salesman, but I am not overly familliar with the character.

    I thought the film was great, but the critics (as usual) displayed little imagination and a really gross vindictiveness in revealing too much plot in their negative reviews. What interests me most is that these are stories that you couldn’t tell outside of this particular style; otherwise, you’d have such a gory, violent film that no one would want to see it. By controlling the delivery, they’ve made the content watchable while still delivering the ultra-violent punch that comes from a man with nothing to lose and a very well-honed sense of justice.

  11. Chuck Said,

    April 9, 2005 @ 12:45 am

    When I saw the film, I expected that many critics would react to it with hostility. I think that’s why my initial review is somewhat cautious. I’ve become more impressed by the film over the last few days, and I thik you may be right that critics have been acting out by revealing plot points, and yes, I think the violence is carefully managed by the film’s graphic novel sensibility.

  12. Walid Said,

    April 11, 2005 @ 8:46 pm

    Many believed that the confrontation between the investigators and the prostitutes was the bit directed by Quentin Tarantino, but as Nikki mentioned, it is indeed the very interesting conversation between Dwight and Jackie Boy with his head semi-detached.

    What I personally found very interesting was the theme of love beneath all the violence and anger in all of the three plots. Marv seeking answers for the only love of his life, Dwight claiming responsibility for the mess that he caused for the prostitutes (but mainly for Gail), and obviously, for Hartigan, whose sole purpose of living was kept alive by Nancy’s letters. I could not see it initially, but when I realized, it had a very profound effect.

    Robert Rodriguez approached Frank Miller, while Miller did not want his series to be invaded (we’ve all seen what happened to Catwoman) but apparantly, he was very impressed with Rodriguez’s approach. Rodriguez intends to film the remaining Sin City stories in the future, which may explain the reason why he had that mini Josh Hartnett bit in the beginning and the end.

    What I personally found very interesting was the theme of love beneath all the violence and anger in all of the three plots. Marv seeking answers for the only love of his life, Dwight claiming responsibility for the mess that he caused for the prostitutes (but mainly for Gail), and obviously, for Hartigan, whose sole purpose of living was kept alive by Nancy’s letters. I could not see it initially, but when I realized, it had a very profound effect. As the tag-line of the movie goes, ‘Walk down the right back alley in Sin City… and you can find anything.’ This speaks so true.

  13. Chuck Said,

    April 12, 2005 @ 11:54 am

    Walid, I think the love theme is certainly there. In fact, in most cases the love is almost chivalric, though I’m not quite sure where to go with that observation. Thanks for the comment!

  14. FoRo Said,

    April 13, 2005 @ 6:58 pm

    damn, saw it yesterday it blew my mind of. I really liked every little detail about that movie. Nice Job, reeeaaallly nice job.

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