Film Reviews: Wednesday, March 31, 2005
Clive Owen offers to give Benicio del Toro the shave of his life in ‘Sin City.’
Sin City.
Starring Bruce Willis, Mickey Rourke, Clive Owen, Benecio Del Toro, Rosario Dawson, Nick Stahl, and Jessica Alba. Written by Robert Rodriguez, based on Frank Miller’s graphic novels. Directed by Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller. Guest directed by Quentin Tarantino.

For a discussion of Sin City between Abrams and chief film critic Kristian Lin, go to
Bless Me, Father

Long on visuals, a little short on plot, Sin City is one helluva spellbinding excursion.


The entire movie glows in vivid black and white, the cracks and crevices of characters’ leather jackets filling up with swathes of black, as if tar is being dumped on them. Rain comes down continuously in shards, like fragments of steel. The characters’ smiles and frowns appear larger than life.
Sin City is a beautiful CGI-heavy movie that, unlike most other similar flicks, doesn’t want to “compete” on an intellectual or emotional level with ordinary films, but just enjoins the audience to sit back and enjoy the ride.
Based on a much-loved comic book series created by Frank Miller, the movie does what no other comic-book-based movie has dared do (with the exception of maybe Dick Tracy), and that’s attempt to really look like a comic book. Credit Robert Rodriguez, writer and co-director with Miller, for this. If Oscar’s voting members would deign to cast a ballot for a movie with no redeeming social value, Rodriguez would certainly be in the frontrunning for cinematography this year. What appears on screen is a nearly three-dimensional moving force that ends up being almost a genre of pop art to itself. The visuals also perfectly complement the heavily testosterone-laden plot — if you can call the patchy story line a plot.
The narrative engine behind Sin City is more like a dramatic thread that, while short on story momentum, is engaging enough to keep you watching, kind of like a clothesline on which more and more amazing artifacts are hung. If you stay in your chair, you won’t be waiting around to see “who done it” but for more voyeuristic reasons. The seemingly boundless creativity is mesmerizing: A character takes nine rounds to the chest and still delivers stream-of-consciousness one-liners; another pounds three dozen shots of bourbon before beating the daylights out of a few suit-and-tie goons in a back alley.
Like its closest cousin, Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, Sin City is built piecemeal. There are three subplots, all occuring under the same roof of the titular town. One involves an old-timer cop (Bruce Willis) and his hunt for a serial pedophile (Nick Stahl). Another, a hulking grunt (Mickey Rourke) and his relentless desire to avenge the death of a hooker. Lastly, a postmodern Fonzie (Clive Owen), who watches cautiously over the city’s red-light district. (The vignettes don’t overlap much.) Not to put too fine a point on it, but these “plots” are really just good excuses to sate some fanboys’ fantasies — nothing here is as mind-altering as a good cigar or can of Jolt cola.
But where Rodriguez succeeds here (and where Tarantino falters in his Kill Bill experiment) is behind the camera. Sure, both directors can be written off as grown men who still like to play with their G.I. Joes, but Rodriguez has not forgotten that thing called the audience. His film anthology — full of topless vampires (From Dusk Till Dawn), alien-abducted schoolteachers (The Faculty), and Antonio Banderas in leather (Desperado) — may not exactly revolutionize the industry, but at least his rapid-fire storytelling and self-mocking overtones can keep an audience enthralled.
So maybe Rodriguez is like that dream prom date — he’s completely transparent in his wishes but is not above showing his partner a good time, expenses be damned. (Rodriguez gave up his Director’s Guild membership to share helm credit with Miller.)
But From Dusk Till Dawn is still Rodriguez’ best work, that Texas road-cum-vampire-porn flick that is made out of everything good and wonderful in B-moviedom — and plays to Rodriguez’ natural instincts. As for Sin City, let’s just say that while it bests the former in the visuals department (thanks to deep studio pockets), it still lacks that certain B-movie magic, probably because part of the magic of a good B-movie is sensing that the movie was cheaply made. And there’s nothing cheap-looking about this one.

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