Graphic novels and comic books are mediums of entertainment I was never sold on, and I especially have never been satisfied by a movie adapted by one. But tonight I am here to talk about "Sin City," an amazingly breathtaking work of art by filmmaker Robert Rodriguez who has taken Frank Miller's series of brutally violent graphic novels (unread by me) to the big screen.
The movie is shot in monochrome shades of black and white, and features brooding soulless characters in the form of old fashioned cops in brim hats and gangsters that race the streets in buggies, jumping every corner unable to find traction on the icy roads plagued by never-ending snow and rain. Stygian buildings reach for the sky in a city that feels like a maze where its inhabitants are trapped and doomed to live out their petty existences in these unforgiving times.
Sort of like Alex Proyas' "Dark City," another fine example of mastered film noir, the sun never shines and people have no reason to smile. Knowing where the characters are at any given moment are determined by the size of their shadow painted on the wall.
Lurid tones of color soon penetrate through the darkness -- eyes turn green, lips and blood ooze red -- as several stories begin accelerating with the main character of each narrating his travels with captivating dialogue so brilliant you wish it would never end.
There are too many stories we follow for me to go into detail, as even mentioning the star-studded cast list is exhaustive, which includes but is not limited to: Bruce Willis, Clive Owen, Rosario Dawson, Brittany Murphy, Benicio Del Toro, Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Elijah Wood, Josh Hartnett, Michael Madsen, Jamie King, and Nick Stahl.
And surprisingly, not a single character should have been left out of the film; a testament to Frank Miller who has created an entire world of colorful characters, each one able to contribute something unique and original to the overall adventure.
"Sin City" uses three of Miller's original stories and has interwoven the plots so that they are all connected. The pacing is fluid and the chronology is flawless even though each of three different stories takes place at the same time.
The movie opens with Josh Hartnett as an emotionless unnamed hit man who takes us into the first story about an aging cop, Hartigan (Willis), trying to save an 11-year-old girl from a pedophile (Nick Stahl) who happens to be the son of a prominent politician. Then we meet Marv (Rourke) -- in a story with an opening again similar to "Dark City" -- an unstoppable brute who wakes up and finds a dead prostitute (King) in his bed. He will stop at nothing to avenge her death because she was the only woman who was nice to him, prostitute or not.
Later we find Dwight (Owen) and a crooked cop named Jackie Boy (Del Toro) in a standoff over a barmaid named Shellie (Murphy). Their confrontation later takes them to a part of town that is run by sexy but deadly hookers under the command of Gail (Dawson), who keeps the pimps and aggressors at bay with her slicing artist, Miho (Devon Aoki). Miho's command of the swords assures every streetwalker that their clients wouldn't try to skip town without playing or attempt something devious if they wanted to leave with their lives.
Corruption runs wild in Sin City; the church, police and politicians are plagued by scandal often coming to an end on bloody terms. Beatings are the norm and confessions are forced upon inmates wishing to escape their prison sentences only to walk free in a much larger prison that is Sin City.
We don't know what time period the film is set in. Mentions of Triple-A, sights of modern Beretta handguns and an advanced city skyline suggest modern times. But the noir. Oh, the noir. We're taken back to a time when old Chryslers and buggies ruled the streets and when women were called broads, and strangers walked into seedy bars because "everyone's looking for somebody" in this town.
The intercutting between live celluloid and comic strip is an achievement Ang Lee could have only dreamed about during the planning of his disastrous adaptation of "Hulk." The gifted Rodriguez is in his place here and in firm control. Completely comfortable, and not once does he allow the zillion and a half stories to get away from him or unravel into obscurity.
Rodriguez was assisted by two other credited directors: with him on the set everyday was Frank Miller to supervise the transformation of his graphic novel to film, and special guest director Quentin Tarantino for directing only one scene in the movie, the one in the car with Owen and Del Toro as they evade police and mobsters.
Even though it's just one scene for Tarantino -- Rodriguez wanted him to take a shot at digital filming -- his contribution is worth his status as a special guest director, and justifies the self-aggrandizing advertisements…not to mention the useful public service announcement for gun enthusiasts who should never fire their weapon with an obstruction inside the bore end of the barrel.
"Sin City" is stirring. It's sexy. It's seductive. It's completely mesmerizing. The series of engaging stories will engulf you and you'll never lose focus. This is film noir on steroids mastered to a science. Finally a comic book adaptation-to-film that is not only successful but brilliant. Welcome to Sin City, baby.