Review: Sin City

It's mean. It's intense. And it's the reason why you call a graphic novel, and not a comic book. It's Sin City, and I stand by my rating, although the review may have you scratching your head and asking "So what does he really think?"

What I think is, this is one of the most amazing movies I've seen in a long time--but that is because I know what Frank Miller offers in his works.

Rating: 5 out of 5

It's been a while since I've reviewed a movie or a book for the guys, and Lord knows I owe them a review for Patricia Bray's Devlin's Luck, the wrap-up for Battlestar Galactica, and an anime review for Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Volume II. Instead of any of those to get back into the groove, I choose a film like Sin City, the toughest film I think I have ever had the pleasure--and displeasure--to review. As you all see, I am giving it the highest rating possible. Still I had issues with it, and I have a feeling those issues are going to, as Sin City would put it, leave a bitter taste in my mouth similar to the sharp tang of metal, accented by oil. That's what it feels like when some shoves a .45 in your mouth. With an aftertaste like that, you almost wish they pulled the trigger. Almost.

Now here is where I would give you a plot summary of the film, but as the film is actually a series of shorts all interwoven (quite cleverly, I might add) in the same manner as Pulp Fiction I'm just going to jump to my thoughts of the film. (And there might be a few items in here deemed as "spoilers"?I call them "warnings"?but be ready for them.) So, let me address what rubbed me the wrong way with Sin City?

I truly believe that writers should only go to the well for comic relief or shock value no more than three times. It's the holy trinity that applies to comedy, but can also be applied to thrillers, horror films, or even mysteries. Work in three's.

Frank Miller, on the other hand, decided to take exception.

The first "crotch moment" (which I'm defining here is any joke or gag--pardon the pun--that deals with a man's "mommy-and-daddy-box".) came within the first ten minutes after the opening credits. I was okay with that. We had a second one a few scenes later with Mickey Rourke's vignette. Again, no problem. I lost count after five crotch moments, the last one belonging to Bruce Willis that did not step across the line so much as pole vaulted over it and took pictures.

Since we are on the topic of Bruce Willis' moment that makes real men squirm, let's talk a bit about the violence level. Simply put: Miller's Sin City makes The Passion of the Christ look like Monty Python's Life of Brian. Mel Gibson caught a lot of heat over his realistic and in-your-face trial and crucifixion of Jesus Christ. After watching Sin City, I am convinced the media and Hollywood have no issues with the following:

  • Cannibalism
  • Beheadings
  • Extreme beatings
  • Impromptu disembowelings
  • Limb removal
  • Quadriplegics being served to wolves

because all this (and more) happens in Sin City. Repeatedly. And while in guest director's Quentin Tarantino's martial arts send-up Kill Bill, Vol. 1 the gore of the Crazy 88's fight was toned down with switching from color to black and white, this approach did nothing for Sin City as blood was colored, either bright red, fluorescent white, or yellow. If anything, this approach made the gore more pronounced. In the first hour of the film, I was shocked. By the end of the film, I was reminded of the Flash Gordon from the1980's where someone would be shot or stabbed and it was anyone's guess what color the blood would be.

Now, at this point one could argue (and I'm sure they will) that I am ignorant of the material and just bluntly say, "You don't know Frank Miller". Maybe I haven't read enough of his works, Sin City being one of them; but I do have a level of expectation from Frank Miller and was prepared for the intensity?to an extent. What about the moviegoer who hasn't picked up a (yes, I'm going to say it?) comic book since their childhood? All the looks I got when I was in college and reading The Dark Knight Returns tells me this is the norm for the average moviegoer, and this is your audience: the masses. Are they going to be ready for something like this? Chances are, no. That does not mean you compromise the material by any stretch, but you could take some steps: leave a bit more to the imagination as opposed to showing me the full monty, be it in black and white or silhouette.

I also refuse to believe Miller has built his illustrious career and reputation of Sin City on sophomoric humor such as the reoccurring crotch moments. Now, here's where I fault Miller: Take out said crotch moments and graphic violence, you are left with material that is somewhere between dime store pulp fiction and Ellery Queen Mysteries. I may not know all of Miller's works, but he's better than relying on gimmicks. If you're going to do film noir, you do not necessarily have to make your dialogued so canned, it rings if you drop a line.

And regardless of director Robert Rodriguez's insisting, I think sharing a director's credit was a bit much. Having it listed as Frank Miller's Sin City should have been credit enough.

So with so much I've got against Sin City, why am I giving it the highest rating? Between director Rodriguez, guest director Tarantino, and the cast (a ?Who's on the A-List in Tinseltown? company of actors, with a few surprises thrown in for fun!), they take this gimmicky material and they make it work. And I mean, work! There is no weak performance from this eclectic crew that includes Josh Harnett, Bruce Willis, Michael Madsen, Rosario Dawson, and Michael Clarke Duncan. Then you get the wildcard actors--Rutger Hauer, Powers Boothe, a heavily made-up Mickey Rourke?that remind you just how good they are. I give a special shout out to Clive Owen who, in this critic's humble opinion, makes up for last summer's debacle King Arthur with a performance that is Oscar-worthy. However, I would be amiss if I didn't mention two of the most outstanding performances were turned in by Elijah Wood and Devon Aoki, and they don't utter a single word in the film.

And with Jessica Alba, two words: Yum-yum!!! It's a real shame she's playing Invisible Girl in the upcoming Fantastic Four--I don't want her disappearing for a second!

The actors sell the material for everything it's worth, and then kick it up a notch with performances that are reminiscent of the great film noir classics. Yeah, I think Bogie would be proud. Add to this Rodriguez in the director's and editor's chair. He creates a stylized, redefined ?neo noir? piece where only certain details from cars to eyes to (yeah, I'll say it) blood stand out against a dark and dismal world of shadow and light. I heard one media star describe it as if ?You stepped into a comic book?? but I honestly think it's better than that. I really felt more like I was trapped in a surreal alternate universe, and the characters knew they were trapped in this nightmare as well. Instead of bitching and moaning about it, they faced the music?depressing as it might have been?and resolved themselves to make the most of it. On Sin City's approach, acting, and style, I cannot praise it highly enough. This was an incredible two hour mind trip, somewhat reminiscent of the Johnny Depp vehicle Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas?just without those goddamn bats.

You are going to want to see this film on the big screen. Just be forewarned. If you have never read anything from Frank Miller, do yourself a favor and pick up at least one of his works. It would be good to know what you're getting yourself into.

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