As it says in the opening credits, this is Frank Miller’s “Sin City.” And it is, from the opening scene to the end. While the credits say this was co-directed by Miller and Robert Rodriguez—with Quentin Tarantino dropping by as guest director—it was Rodriguez who brought Miller’s Mickey Spillane/Elmore Leonard-esque graphic novels to life with a dazzling adherence to their original look and feel.
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, grab Miller’s work and flip through the pages while watching this film. You’ll have to switch back and forth between different books as the story unfolds, but pay attention to the startling similarities between the printed art and the art you see on the screen. Both are in black-and-white, with splashes of color to highlight important features (a woman’s lips or eyes, a bed, etc.). Not only do the characters look almost identical, but the freaking shots were even painstakingly recreated by Rodriguez.
I sure hope Miller doesn’t loathe Hollywood anymore.
Sure, “Sin City”—the film and the series of graphic novels—is pretty derivative of the works of Spillane, Leonard, and other crime writers, but it’s really the captivating visual style—along with the intertwined stories that, as Tarantino says in the accompanying featurette, create a unique mythology—that sets this film apart. For the most part, you’d never know that Rodriguez shot the entire thing in front of green screens, although a couple cast members—most notably, Alexis Bledel, who can’t shake her “Gilmore Girls” cutesiness even though she’s playing a hooker here—don’t always look completely comfortable working that way.
Aside from Bledel, the entire cast is pitch-perfect. I know someone who was astounded at the casting of Mickey Rourke as Marv, a brute who searches for the killer of the woman he spent just one night with, but he’s completely believable. Sure, the prosthetics help, but Rourke still manages to carry himself with the bravado Marv requires. Similarly spot-on are the other two protagonists: Bruce Willis as a detective protecting a stripper who was once a little girl he saved; and Clive Owen as Dwight, who finds himself in the middle of a war between the cops and the prostitutes who control Old Town.
Those three stories are told in non-linear order, a la “Pulp Fiction,” although the timeline doesn’t jump around as much. The film stays on one story and sees it through before moving to another one, although Willis’ Hartigan bookends the main story. There’s a brief pre-credits scene that Rodriguez shot to convince Miller that he was the one to bring “Sin City” to life, but it only comes back to affect one of the other tales by the end. It was just a short story anyway, simply one of Miller’s many little “’Sin City’ mythology tales” that he’s published.
I should also note that “Sin City” uses comic book violence and physics, which means that the characters pull off impossible stunts and many of them can handle about a billion gunshots without dying. The villains also have creepy preternatural abilities, which helps drive home the point that Spillane’s Mike Hammer wouldn’t know what to do with himself in such a world, aside from reciting the hard-boiled voice-overs and chewing all that crunchy dialogue.
Unfortunately, I have to ding this DVD with half a star (I know, I wield my incredible DVD reviewing influence with an iron fist) because it only includes an eight-minute featurette that barely scrapes the surface of the making of this film. Rodriguez has already said that a more elaborate edition is in the works, so if you’re in the market for this film, you might want to hold off. Apparently it’s coming before the end of 2005. If you simply must have this movie now, though, caveat emptor.