Sin City (2005) — From the blood-splattered comic pages

“It’s time to prove to your friends that you’re worth a damn. Sometimes that means dying. Sometimes it means killing a whole lot of people.”

Drew’s rating: I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints.

Drew’s review: Let’s just get it out of the way — yes, this IS the most faithful comic-to-movie adaptation ever. No question. Everyone writing about the film has mentioned it, and they’re all absolutely right. We’re talking no leather instead of spandex, no Green Goblin armor, no nipples on the Batsuit… shot for shot, frame for frame, this is the real deal. The question then becomes, of course: is that a good thing? Let’s face it, there’s a reason Wesley Snipes didn’t sport an afro in Blade, and why Hugh Jackman wasn’t rockin’ the yellow jumpsuit in X-Men. (Eh, the brown costume is cooler anyway.) Going into this movie, the question on my mind wasn’t whether it would be faithful… it was whether “faithful” would translate to “good movie.”

Oh, HELL yes.

Forgive the swearing; I find myself doing that a lot more after seeing this movie. But let’s be honest, when you’re dealing with a film featuring cannibalism, prostitute assassins, and multiple castrations, a couple of dirty words are probably the least of your concerns. And make no mistake about it — this is one violent mother of a film. Creator Frank Miller had no intention of his comics ever becoming a movie and certainly didn’t skimp on the violence, so making a faithful translation means venturing into Kill Bill-levels of gore. The good news is that the movie as a whole is so stylized, such an obviously (yet wonderfully) fictional blend of ’30s film noir and modern-day storytelling, you’ll hardly notice. Just like the cartoonish violence of Evil Dead 2, most people should be able to handle Sin City and the 83 bullets every main character can take without dying.

Speaking of whom, let’s talk plot. The film revolves around three knights in rusted armor, all residents of (Ba)sin City, the most corrupt, morally bankrupt town you’ve never seen. Marv (Mickey Rourke) is an ugly bruiser who’s good at hurting people and not much else… but when a hooker named Goldie seeks out his protection and is killed anyway, he embarks on a quest for revenge that threatens to tear the city apart. Meanwhile, Dwight (Clive Owen) sets out to throw a scare into his girlfriend’s ex-lover, but when the sap winds up dead, it’s up to him to help the gun-slinging hookers of Old Town hide the body. Finally, honest cop Hartigan (Bruce Willis) gets more than he bargained for when a young girl whose life he saves grows into a stripper goddess (Jessica Alba), but must first contend with the Yellow Bastard.

With so many famous actors involved, my other concern was whether I’d be able to buy them in their respective roles. But in another case of the stylism working for rather than against the film, I really didn’t find it to be a problem. Given the melodramatic nature of the characters’ speech patterns and the general “feel” of the movie, you’re well aware at every step that this isn’t reality… but oddly, that actually makes it easier to accept, say, Frodo Baggins as a serial killer, or Mickey Rourke as a hulking, noir-ishly eloquent brute. I’m not sure I can explain exactly why that is, and it may not hold true for everyone, but when the whole thing’s so clearly a comic brought to life, it actually makes the portrayals seem all the more real. Does that make any sense?

It should absolutely go without saying, but this movie isn’t for everyone. Aside from the obvious issue of the subject matter, I’d imagine some will be put off by the stylistic choices, particularly the frequent inner monologues and a widely melodramatic tone. Hey, that’s cool — noir is noir, and some cats just can’t get into Shakespeare either. Others will completely miss the point of the flick, coming away feeling it’s nothing more than a disjointed, depraved mess of gruesome violence and gratuitous sex. Fair enough, I guess… different strokes.

But believe it or not, the phrase “really faithful comic book adaptation” is not going to put a ton of asses in seats; for that, the movie has to stand on its own merits. Star power aside, the fact that Sin City has made some serious coin is a terrific validation of the close ties between comics and cinema, and how effectively one can make the transition to the other. A movie like this wears its influences on its sleeve, so if you have any interest in film noir, or crime drama, or booze, broads, and bullets, you already know it’s what you’re looking for. And if not, hey, no problem… just leave the rest of us to our sins.

Lissa’s rating: I only covered my eyes TWICE! Black and white really cuts down on the nauseating effects of gore.

Lissa’s review: Sin City doesn’t seem like my normal type of flick, does it? It’s dark, gritty, and pretty darn violent. After seeing a picture of me watching the dreaded Open Water, you’d think I’d steer as far away from Sin City as possible. Or if I went to see it, it would be because I forced Duckie to watch The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood or I dinged the car or something.

But that’s actually not true. I wanted to see Sin City. What caught my eye was that it looked different, and the characters struck me as very interesting.

Oooh, boy, was I right!

You can’t get a bunch of Mutants together and not watch some movies, and one of the events on the itinerary for this last Mutant Summit (aside from, y’know, Justin getting married and all that) was a viewing of Sin City. Now granted, there wasn’t much else to see. None of us were dying to see A Lot Like Love or Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous. So despite there being 24 theaters, there really was a limited selection. But then, it was pretty much agreed. Those of us who hadn’t seen it wanted to see it, and those of them who had already seen it wanted to see it again. Works for me.

Sin City is essentially three and a quarter story lines in one movie. You have an old, honest cop named Hartigan (Bruce Willis) trying to bust a pedophilic creep. There’s Mickey Rourke as Marv, a brutally ugly guy determined to avenge the death of the only woman who’s ever shown him any kindness. And there’s ex-con Dwight (Clive Owen), tracking down his girlfriend’s abuser and trying to not split open a huge war between the law, the Mob, and the hookers in Old Town. Then there’s Josh Hartnett as the Salesman, who is apparently some sort of hit man but I had to have that one explained to me afterwards, because no background is given there and that bit does little more than to open and close the movie and give you the flavor of the town.

Yes, it was gory and violent. Yes, the worst of humanity was on display. Lots of sex, drugs, crime, killing, torture, you name it. It’s the sort of movie I normally run screaming from, but I was drawn like a moth to a flame. (And now I’m a butterfly, yearning to break free…) And I really, really enjoyed it. Maybe I shouldn’t have, but yeah. I did.

What made the movie so interesting was the characters. The characters all had this dirty sort of charisma about them, and they were the kind of characters that, even if they don’t get much screen time, got a certain three-dimensionality despite the fact that some of them are cliches brought to life. I mean, Hartigan is a cop one day from retirement. How often do we see THAT, and how little thought does it take to guess he’s going to get himself pumped full of lead? The surest way to kill yourself in a cop movie is to either show a picture of your newborn baby or declare you’re just about to retire. Everyone knows that. And yet, the plotline and the character take on a new twist I totally wasn’t expecting and become completely new and interesting. Nothing is quite as it seems in Sin City, and that’s always a good thing.

Sure, some of the twists you could see coming. (It didn’t take much to guess who the traitor in Old Town was, or even why, although the reason was completely plausible, which is rare.) But some of them I just didn’t, and I loved that.

The villains, because yes, some characters were actually worse than others, were absolutely brilliant and twisted. I realize a lot of credit goes to Frank Miller, the author of the comic (a term I keep using solely to annoy the guys on staff), but Kevin has got to be the creepiest, most disgusting, most disturbing villain I’ve seen in a long, long time. And boy, is Elijah Wood trying to break out of Frodo. First Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and now Kevin in Sin City. Let’s just say he’s as far away from Frodo as you can get. But twisted is a great word — Kevin stuck in my head for a long, long time. And so much of what he did was only stated or implied — you didn’t actually see it. And I’ll reiterate my belief that it’s far more effective to leave things to the imagination than to show it on screen sometimes.

The one villain I didn’t like, however, was Yellow Bastard. While there’s a certain supernaturalness to all the characters, Yellow Bastard was a little too over the top for me. The personality and what he did and all that was fine, but his appearance just didn’t quite work for me, and it kind of threw me out of the world a little bit. But hey, small issue, and it really didn’t interfere with how I felt about the rest of this movie.

In fact, I liked this one so much I might try to find the comic and give it a read. How’s THAT for a recommendation, huh? (I never read comics, although not for any deep reason. Just never have.)

Sin City isn’t one of those movies I’d recommend to everyone. I mean, it’s rated R for a reason. It’s dirty and gritty and ugly, and I really wouldn’t want a 13-year-old to see it (even though the 13-year-old boys I know would probably love it). But don’t let the gore and violence turn you off if you like a strong character-driven movie with a lot of action. It really is worth seeing.

Kyle’s rating: Thankfully, I’ve been saying “lame” a lot recently, which comes in handy in describing Sin City: lame!

Kyle’s review: Sorry. Sin City was pretty lame. But in a really cool way. Some of the best cult classics can be described as such, though, so that’s a bright spot. Night of the Creeps and Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension spring immediately to mind. Given a few dozen viewings, I’ll be saluting Sin City just like I vigorously salute Big Brother… and you just might, too!

I knew going in to Sin City that the story wasn’t going to hold much surprise for me, because I had heard this was possibly the most faithful adaptation of a comic book into a film ever, and I had read the original comics (or graphic novels, if you will). As it turned out, this film was so faithful that during the “That Yellow Bastard” portion I could recall the dialogue and narration effectively enough to recite it before it came. Thanks to Sin City, I’m pretty impressed by my memory. That’s good stuff!

Anyway, free of being amazed by the story, I was able to cast more critical attention towards the acting, visuals, sets, blah blah blah. And it was lame. Maybe it’s my lack of experiencing true film noir “classics” and my lack of patience for the examples I have encountered, but that stuff doesn’t do much for me. So Frank Miller’s clear love for the old noir stuff isn’t something I can really enjoy, though I appreciate his enthusiasm. But I don’t care. It’s hard to tell if all the actors cared, either, or if they purposely acted wooden and stiff in order to more fully replicate those noir performances of old. Don’t know. Don’t care.

I can’t recommend Sin City. I guess it’s well-done and certainly memorable in its visuals, but is that enough? The stories aren’t very fun, and I’ve never enjoyed Miller’s tendency for writing horribly overwrought characters who take inner demons and tortured monologues to a place even William Shakespeare thought was just too much. I’m thinking Sin City the film is another thing like Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, where the people who really love it really love it and the rest of us see it or don’t but don’t care much either way.

Rich’s rating: Thank you, Hollywood, thank you.

Rich’s review: People who frequent the Mutant forums might be wondering, if indeed they pay any attention at all to my comings and goings, why it’s taken so long for me to write a review for this film. I mean, I’ve been ranting and raving about it for as long as I’ve known it’s been coming out, I’ve been practically crowning it the new greatest film ever made before even seeing it and yet, when the time comes for its release, here I am strangely silent. There are a lot of reasons for that.

One is a change of personal circumstances which has left my time a little short as of late; second is the fact that in their infinite wisdom the movie moguls in Hollywood decided that a four-month wait to move the film to Europe after the US release would be an appropriate form of retribution for British troops torching the White House during the War of 1812. And finally, I wanted to watch it a few times to make sure that the film I saw the first time wasn’t just some kind of fevered dream of mine, some figment of my imagination where somehow, and against all logic, a film this year not only lived up to my expectations, but exceeded them in such a way that I have not yet begun to stop smiling.

Because, and I’m going to be brutally honest here, I think my expectations of this film might have been a little high. Being based on what I consider to be one of the best series of graphic novels ever written, everything I had seen about Sin City had me frothing more and more at the mouth like the rabid fanboy I had so suddenly degenerated into. But as the time drew closer and closer for me to see Sin City I remembered that the last film I had seen of which I had placed so much trust was Matrix Revolutions, and I think we all know how that turned out. That twisting worm of doubt started by that chain of thought quickly spawned into a whole nest of them in my stomach come viewing time. My fragile ego couldn’t suffer another disappointment at the hands of Hollywood, else I might have to stop watching films all together and take up something with a lower chance of upsetting me, like being regularly birched with thorny sticks then tossed into a vat of salt and lemon juice.

Fortunately, and I’m sure you can all see the happy ending approaching at breakneck speed towards this story, Sin City just happened to turn out to be an absolutely outstanding adaptation of the brilliant comic books, enthralling and well acted and lots of other positive and glowing adjectives of which I can’t be bothered to think right now. But it’s great. Really, really great and you don’t have to just be me to think so. My girlfriend liked it too, and if a film noir pulp action thriller can appeal to her, then its a safe bet that even people who actively hate the medium of film and all genres of visual entertainment might still find Sin City entertaining.

So why is it so good? That’s not the easiest question to answer, given that Sin City wears its few faults on its sleeves for everyone to see and point at. Being a film for which the word pulp was practically invented, there are a few to a lot (depending on your sensibilities) of lines which might make you cringe a little. Some of the acting might be a little hammy or some of the characters 2D, and if you are of a particularly cynical and jaded bent you might consider the whole thing a little pretentious and as we say over here in the UK “up it’s own arse”, which I don’t think needs a lot of translation.

And all those are completely fair and true points that can be made about Sin City, for which the only excuse or reason is that it is absolutely MEANT to be that way. Sin City isn’t really about story (though it has not one but four interlinked ones to keep you entertained), it’s a film all about revisiting the style and feel of the pulp noir films of the 50’s and giving them a good old fashioned Hollywood makeover. Adding in a cast of stars both old and new, and helpfully being based on several stories which are equally entertaining in their own right, with a little sex and violence to keep the under-18s happy, and enough pathos, angst, and tragedy to keep every poetry society and gothic circle in the continental US stocked in melancholy for months, Sin City manages to make itself a film that is cool to watch and see despite having Mickey Rourke in it. Considering that last film it was OK to watch Mickey Rourke in was Angel Heart back in 1984, thats a pretty impressive arrow for Sin City’s bow, I think you will agree.

Now considering how long this review has been in the making I think I’m safe in that one of my reviewing colleagues will have my back covered with regard to niggling things like plot and characterisation, so I can go back to ranting about how fantastic Sin City is and why every single person on the face of the planet should go see it. Because I have more plaudit’s I want to shower on Sin City, but this time not just for the fact that it’s a fantastic film in its own right.

What else is there left to say? A brilliant and talented cast turn a well-written series of gritty graphic novels into a film which will appeal to fans of the source material and those completely unaware of their geeky origins. It’s undoubtedly going to be one of my films of the year, and probably the best film of the year depending on how Batman and V for Vendetta turn out.

But regardless of it’s eventual standing on the list of movies I love, there are plenty more Sin City stories to tell and rumours are that Robert Rodregiuz has already started filming on back to back sequels of the remaining stories. If that’s true, and I pray nightly that it is, the Sin City trilogy might turn out to be the new Holy Trinity of Film.

Sue’s rating: MEDIC!!!!

Sue’s review: There are movies that I anticipate liking. There are movies I anticipate loving. There are movies I anticipate loathing. And then there are movies I anticipate running away from and hiding under my bed until they give up and go away. I keep a flashlight and several Tom Clancy novels handy under there, because usually my cinematic premonitions prove correct.

However, once in a great, GREAT while, I am proved wrong. Yes, I admit it. I am fallible. Occasionally. Don’t tell my kids.

Seriously, when Sin City was just about to hit the theaters, there wasn’t anything I’d ever heard to make me anticipate it with any emotion beyond polite dread.

“Oh yes,” I would cheerfully nod when a fellow mutant would start yammering to me about it around the water cooler. (Who put the fake eyeballs in there anyway? They are fake, aren’t they?) “Sin City? Terrific. Can’t wait. Tarantino guest directing a scene? Oh, that’s a dream come true for me too!” Ri-i-ight.

I mean, comic books and graphic novels are Drew’s and Kyle’s bailiwick. Black and white was nifty in Clerks, but not usually my cup of tea. Words like “noir” are cool, but I seldom use them unless some unsuspecting schmuck — usually at work — treats me like I’m a mental midget and I find it necessary to haul out the ol’ vocabulary and put the hurt on ’em. (Yes, I can be a veritable linguistic howitzer when I want to be.)

And though I am not usually squeamish in the real world, for some reason, I have problems with fictional graphic gore. Heck, real world or not, arterial bleeding of any sort is… well, pretty yucky. Splashy too. Trust me. So while many of my mutant comrades probably revere Quentin Tarantino, to me the name is sort of synonymous with “Don’t eat a large meal before you watch this movie”. And that’s just regarding one scene.

Two things prompted me to go see Sin City. First of all there’s a clear mutant mandate to occasionally stretch ourselves and to check out the sorts of movies that we wouldn’t ordinarily touch without a hazardous materials suit, asbestos gloves and a sturdy pair of tongs. Secondly is the irrefutable fact that Clive Owen looked really hot on the marquee poster. Hey, can’t I have a shallow side, once in a while?

So I pocketed a few Rolaids, opted against the “Mongo” sized popcorn, sallied forth into an almost empty theater, ensured that there was a clear path of escape and restrooms really near by… and absolutely adored the movie. Even now, a few years later, I can’t believe how much I liked it.

The strength of Sin City is that it never loses the conviction that it is a graphic novel and is therefore not bound by certain cinematic conventions such as flowing dialogue, seamless plot progression, bodily fluids in natural bodily fluidish colors or Josh Hartnett not displaying any vestige of a personality. Okay, so Josh Hartnett didn’t display any vestige of a personality anyway, but he didn’t have to… not… display… any… vestige… of…, well anyway, the point is that for Sin City, it worked out. Okay?

The primary purpose of any movie is really to entertain, and Sin City does exactly that. It holds attention, teases the senses (‘tease’ apparently being synonymous with ‘bludgeon’ in this case), poses questions and manages to come full circle in such a way that even a basic boogerhead like myself can say, “A-ha! I get it!” And it’s noir and stuff too. Yeah, really noir. I’ll say it again. Noir Say it with me. All together now. Noir. Very good!

Didja notice?

  • How it’s acceptable to mention That Yellow Bastard in newspaper reviews now? Man, when I was a kid, that was one of the MAJOR no-no words… ah, how times change.
  • How convincing a stripper Jessica Alba makes? Reportedly she went to actual strip clubs to research the role, and was willing to be topless if Robert Rodriguez wanted it. Now that’s dedication! (And disappointment, since he didn’t.)
  • How every character can take more bullets than 50 Cent and still kick ass?
  • Creator Frank Miller makes a cameo as the priest Marv, er, encounters.
  • Quentin Tarantino guest-directed the car ride scene between Dwight and Jackie Boy for $1, to repay Robert Rodriguez for scoring Kill Bill Vol. 2 for $1. During the scene, Tarantino (a vocal proponent of old-school filmmaking) initially tried to use a real car set, but found it too limiting and went to CGI, like the rest of the film.
  • One of the guns Hartigan uses was carried by Robocop, whose movies Frank Miller worked on.

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