A mean and brutal piece of work, Sin City introduces a hermetically sealed universe full of rain and blood. This 2005 film is directed by Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller and is based on the graphic novel of the same name, specifically Miller’s The Hard Goodbye, The Big Fat Kill and That Yellow Bastard.
Sin City is one of those pictures in which every line crackles like it’s been pulled through a vat of bourbon and nails. The dialogue by Miller and Rodriguez is darkly inspired and the actors are game to deliver each word with gritty aplomb. That makes the filthy cocktail go down easy.
After a prologue and a killing, we’re introduced to aging cop John Hartigan (Bruce Willis) as he tries to save 11-year-old Nancy from child murderer Roark Jr. (Nick Stahl). Hartigan has a bum ticker and there’s a betrayal that reveals Senator Roark (Powers Boothe) and corruption as deep as the night is long. Years later, Nancy has grown up (Jessica Alba) and Hartigan still tries to protect her from evil.
There’s also the tale of Marv (Mickey Rourke), a tattered and gigantic sort of Tom Waits. He bangs Goldie (Jaime King), but she’s dead when he wakes up and he’s been pinned with the deed. He tracks down her killer. It gets dark. And the tale of Dwight (Clive Owen) and the drunken Jackie Boy (Benicio del Toro) rounds it out, killer hookers and big trunks and deadly little Miho (Devon Aoki) included.
Rodriguez’s vision for Sin City is not so much an adaptation of Miller’s work but a “translation,” as he put it. This makes for an interesting effect as the movie really does look ripped from the pages of the graphic novel. Things are soaked in black and white, with rare but striking splashes of colour divulging another world beyond the confines of Basin City.
Legitimacy is sparse, but something comes up when the Salesman (Josh Hartnett) offers a smoke to the Customer (Marley Shelton) on a rooftop. The trace from his lighter gives lie to the colour of her eyes, like only natural light can shed itself over this realm. Everything from within is dead in some way, buried from signs of joy or happiness and drenched in grey.
That gives Rodriguez and Miller’s picture a fantastical quality and sets Sin City up as a creation all its own, which eschews the sort of world-invading forces of comic book heroes and useless superheroes. In Basin City, the heroes aren’t allowed in. Even the good guys are hardened by pills or heart conditions or human weakness. And even the good guys commit unspeakable horror.
Sin City is obviously soaked in the realm of film noir. The dialogue crackles with anxiety, from the sneering assertiveness of men like Dwight and Marv to the fragile insurgence of Brittany Murphy’s heart-rending Shellie. The hookers of Basin City have a lexicon, too. It’s practically a rite of ferocity, of self-reliance, of the closest thing to amity. The women stick together.
Sin City is a violent and excessive motion picture and that’s what makes it so damn good. There is brutality and exaggeration around every corner. And the stories in this grim anthology are worth visiting again and again, whether takes sick pleasure in the mutt finally coming for the unblinking, unfeeling Kevin (Elijah Wood) or whether one just wants to watch filled-out Nancy do her thing.