Somewhere between Raymond Chandler and R. Crumb lives Sin City, the graphic comics by the revered Frank Miller that have now been transformed into a visually stunning film noir for the ADD generation – a film that rarely stops to give you time to mull over what’s going on but takes you on a rough ride through towns without pity, streets with no names, and dames to kill for. Miller apparently was reluctant to bring Sin City to the big screen, and had to be convinced by Robert Rodriguez. The two co-directed the film (along with Quentin Tarantino, who guest-directs one short but memorable segment) and, from the looks of it, it’s hard to tell who directed what. It all looks just like Miller’s gorgeous, provocative comic – three colors used in various shades – black, white and red (Isn’t that what the noirs of the 1940s were always aching for? A splash of red across the black and white landscape) – lots of deep shadows, men with sweaty, scarred faces and women with pneumatic curves bounding out of their tight straps and girdles. Sin City, for which Rodriguez resigned from the Directors Guild in order to co-direct with the non-union Miller, tells its story in three basic vignettes, surrounding three men who risk it all for a dame. Unlike the classic films of the genre, femme fatales don’t drive the action. In Sin City. evil men – religious leaders, politicians, cops – head institutions that should stand for something, but stand for nothing, so justice must be wrought by individuals who operate by their own moral code. The stories are all interconnected and somehow involve the same evil villains, one of whom is played by none other than Frodo himself, Elijah Wood who plays a cannibal serial killer with such glee that one wonders if he couldn’t wait to shed the stereotype of himself as the angelic hobbit. As it turns out, he meets with a fate that is the most gruesome in a film that is chock full of gore and spatter as each villain is violently undone. The best of the three is the story involving Marv (Mickey Rourke) who goes on an avenging rampage when the only woman who ever loved him, Goldie (a visually perfect Jaime King) is killed while the two are sleeping. To kill a goddess like Goldie is to step outside the realm of what is acceptable in Marv’s world and to kill, in the most horrific manner possible, all who were involved in Goldie’s death, is Marv’s only option. Rourke turns in his best performance in years as Marv, a brute who can’t be killed. Not only does he have the best lines in the film but he himself seems to have been cut from the same cloth as Marv. We love guys like Marv because, no matter what awful things they do, they are fighting the good fight. The other stories have entertaining moments – Clive Owen as Dwight follows a creepy cop (Benicio Del Toro) into the part of town where the whores rule. They don’t just service johns – they protect themselves from pimps and cops. That is, until a cop shows up and threatens one of them. Owen looks gorgeous as usual but can’t quite master the American dialect which is, at times, distracting. The whole film is bookended by the third fable, one involving Hartigan (Bruce Willis) who rescues an 11 year-old named Nancy Callahan. Because her kidnapper is highly placed in the corrupt society that rules the city, Hartigan goes to prison. He and Nancy keep in contact and eventually, Hartigan gets out to save Nancy yet again – only Nancy is all grown up and embodied by the sexy Jessica Alba. Their love story is as doomed as the others, honorable, impossible, driven by the heart. If Sin City were only about Marv’s character, and we didn’t have to then sit through the other quite lengthy segments in the film, it would be a far more satisfying experience. By the time the third vignette rolls around, there is a sense that the film has overstayed its welcome. The dialogue begins to sound repetitive and the limited palette of color begins to seem something of a bore. Nonetheless, Sin City is a richly manifested, gorgeous work of art, even if its substance stops at its surface – with a surface like that, with beauty like that, there often isn’t the need to go deeper.
AT THE MOVIES: Living in Sin: Sin City (***)
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