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"Sin City"

Directed by Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino.
Written by Frank Miller.  Based on the comic series by Frank Miller.
Starring Mickey Rourke, Clive Owen and Bruce Willis.
Release Year:  2005
Review Date:  4/3/2005

Folks--

My friend Chi and I were talking last week, and he revealed his truth--he was getting excited to see the new flick "Sin City."  This worried me, because this might be the kiss of death--his excitement might translate into lost dreams and unfulfilled promises.  But in listening to Chi I realized that even I was getting excited about "Sin City"--it's got a great trailer, a loaded cast, a cool website, and heavy involvement by the comic's creator, Frank Miller, who even served as a director on the set of the film too.

From start to finish, "Sin City" is a complete product, the real deal, the kind of film that meets high expectations and exceeds them in almost every way.  Even The Washington Post gave "Sin City" a great review, and we all know that NEVER happens.  I haven't read the comic but I don't have to; the film looks like a comic book that just happens to be acted out.  The look, the special effects, the dialogue, the guns, the girls, the violence, and every little detail in-between seems to have creator Frank Miller's seal of approval, and it works on all levels.

The film is based on three separate Miller's stories based on life in Basin City.  In the first, a former criminal named Marv (Mickey Rourke) has a one-night stand with a hooker named Goldie (Jaime King)...the next morning, Marv wakes up from a fabulous night to see Goldie lying dead beside him.  Almost immediately, the cops show up at his hotel room; from there, Marv goes on a manhunt to find out who framed him and killed his hooker angel.  In the second story, a loner and former hit man named Dwight (Clive Owen) defends his new flame Shellie (Brittany Murphy) by going after a psycho named Jackie Boy (Benicio Del Toro)...unfortunately, Jackie Boy's background leads Dwight to defend even more women in Old Towne against a mob boss (Michael Clarke Duncan) that threatens to hold this seedy subsection hostage.  And in the third segment Basin City's only righteous citizen, Detective Hartigan (Bruce Willis) tries to protect a girl he saved years ago, Nancy (Jessica Alba), from a politician's perverted son (Nick Stahl) and a gang of thugs.

All three of the stories seem to happen on the same day; all of the stories revolve around a man's need to protect a woman that he barely knows.  The thing that I liked the best about "Sin City" were the stories themselves; they're all the same but told with only slight variations, slight enough that it was almost like hearing the same joke three times but being told the joke by different people.  Marv is vengeful to no end; he is nearly indestructible, and seems to take joy in torture...but at the end of the day, he only seeks to lay the smackdown on those that have something to do with Goldie's death.  Rourke is so good at this kind of thing, from the dialogue to the deadpan eyes; he's a perfect choice to play Marv, a hideous sight to behold but a comic relief for the film's base material.  Marv is the thickest pulp of "Sin City"; he can fall ten stories without harm, get hit by cars without incident, spout off one-liners like they were a morning greeting.

I liked the first segment the best but the other two were strong as well.  Hartigan, as played by Willis, is Dick Tracy with a few more scars; did you notice that (straight out of a comic book) every time he is talking to someone he seems to be standing straight up and casting a tall shadow?  Even as Hartigan's health is deteriorating he can only focus on protecting a girl that he has zero connection with; his only real moment of emotion comes as he faces his rival, Rourk/Yellow Bastard, the man that led to Hartigan's eight-year prison stay.  Willis is supposed to be playing a man in his mid-60s, and he does that well; his patience seems to play well with someone that should have retired ages ago.  Stahl plays his bad guy with flair, Alba actually comes off as sweet instead of just plain ol' dirty, Michael Madsen even seems to play his sidekick dialed down two notches, fitting right into place instead of trying to steal the show.

And how good is Clive Owen?  The middle segment is the most senseless of the three, but that makes it even more fun as you get to watch the women of Old Towne go in guns blazing in lace and tall stockings.  As Dwight, Owen only has to shoot people and look cool and Owen has done that in countless other works with his eyes closed.  How hot is Devon Aoki, a supporting character from "2 Fast 2 Furious" that has no lines in "Sin City" but works magic just by looking like the most dangerous broad in town.  I love that the directors--hard to tell who's even directing what, with three directors on the billing--made sure Miho never even looks flustered when she is being blown into the air by a grenade blast...one can imagine Miho being drawn that way, which works well when Aoki gives her life.  Jeez, I even loved the Uzi that Rosario Dawson's character totes as she lights up the bad guys.

The look of the film?  Excellent.  There's some color splashed in for effect here and there, but it's black and white for the most part, and it works beautifully.  Shit, even the credits are cool, when they flash who's playing who but use the original comic's drawings to show you what they looked like in the text.  The static shots, the strange slow-motion effect used throughout the film whenever someone gets shot, the little bandage strips that Marv uses to cover up the myriad cuts and bruises he takes throughout his segment.  The nudity used not to sex up the final product but to make those shots even more tragic; Marv's confusion over the sexual orientation of his parole officer (Carla Gugino) leads him to stare at the nude product and wonder how she could be a switch hitter, giving the scene more than just a giggle moment.

And, there's the violence; it's not your typical Rodriguez violence, bloody for the sake of bloody, sometimes for the sake of your laughter like in "From Dusk Till Dawn."  No, this is much more of a mix--sometimes it is for laughs, but usually it is because the "heroes" of Sin City are a vengeful bunch.  Marv doesn't just kill a man, he kills them, cuts them into pieces, feeds them to household pets and then smokes a cigarette.  Hartigan would have been fine to just shoot a guy, but he has to shoot his arm off and THEN shoot his dong off.  The irony that the hit man, Dwight, is the least violent of the three was hilarious to me--at times, you see him thinking about killing a cop for no reason, or trying to spare the life of a man that just abuses women without killing them, and you think, "This guy was a hit man?"  Then he oversees the bloodbath of 30 people without any real sorrow. 

I was glad to not have it all explained to me--what IS that scar on Hartigan's face from?  Who is the hit man that shows up to begin and end the film?  Why do Marv, Dwight and Hartigan seem to be carrying old-school weapons while everyone else employs more modern firepower?  Why is a cop that goes after Marv tattooed up like a guy out of "Kill Bill Vol. I"?  That just added to the mystique.

This is now my favorite Rodriguez film, taking the place of "Desperado."  One of the few times over the last few years that I wanted to see a film again in a theater soon after leaving.  Cool stuff.

Rating:  Opening Weekend

 

Comments?  Drop me a line at justin@bellviewmovies.com.

 

Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too bad...man, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/bellviewmovies.com except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09