Sin City


Rating 3

Directed by Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller

“Special Guest Director” Quentin Tarantino

Written by Frank Miller

Starring Bruce Willis (John Hartigan), Mickey Rourke (Marv), Clive Owen (Dwight McCarthy), Jessica Alba (Nancy Callahan), Jaime King (Goldie / Wendy), Brittany Murphy (Shellie), Rosario Dawson (Gail), Nick Stahl (Yellow Bastard), Elijah Wood (Kevin), Rutger Hauer (Cardinal Patrick Henry Roark), Powers Boothe (Senator Roark), Benicio del Torro (Jack ‘Jackie Boy’ Rafferty), Alexis Bledel (Becky), Devon Aoki (Miho), Michael Madsen (Bob), Makenzie Vega (Nancy Callahan, as a child) and Josh Hartnett (The Salesman)

In Basin City John Hartigan, an aging police detective with a heart condition, tries to rescue a young girl from a notorious and sadistic serial killer, Marv goes after the killers of a prostitute, having been framed for her murder and Dwight McCarthy gets involved in gang warfare between the prostitutes in Old Town and a gang of mercenaries after the killing of a “hero” police officer.


‘Sin City’ is a 2005 film based on a noir graphic novel series written and drawn by Frank Miller, specifically ‘The Customer Is Always Right’, ‘The Hard Goodbye’, ‘The Big Fat Kill’ and ‘That Yellow Bastard’. It also draws on ‘A Dame to Kill For’, which Miller has indicated will be the basis of a planned sequel. Miller’s other work includes ‘Batman: The Dark Knight Returns’ and ‘300’, which was adapted into a film in 2007 and grossed in excess of $456 million at the box office. I have next to no interest in comic books (or graphic novels) and had very little knowledge of Frank Miller’s work prior to the film’s release.

The film was made using a digital backlot. The actors worked in front of a green screen and artificial computer-generated backgrounds were inserted afterwards. This is not an uncommon technique and it was not the first time it had been used on this scale – another obvious example is ‘Sky Captain and the People of Tomorrow’, released the previous year. The film’s use of black and white cinematography with isolated splashes of colour has been much commented on, but again it is not new. ‘Pleasantville’ in 1998 used a similar trick and, in fact, the influence of the classic 1946 Powell and Pressberger film ‘A Matter of Life and Death’ might be mentioned. The film does have a striking stylistic quality, intended, I assume, to replicate the original comics, although I found that the novelty wore off very quickly.

The proliferation of very graphic and highly stylised violence contained in the film has been much discussed. While it might be tempting to be momentarily in favour of a sadistic paedophile serial rapist and killer having his genitals ripped off, It isn’t shocking or provocative or thought-provoking, compelling or exciting; it’s just incredibly bland and boring. The film is around two hours long and seemed a lot longer to me because I quickly lost interest in the stylised presentation and mind-numbingly boring violence.

The film seems to be making a statement about the treatment of women within society – all the female characters are femme fatales who are invariably brutalised in some shape or form. However, I could not help but think it took too much delight in this depiction and was doing nothing more than pandering to and perpetuating the most reprehensible of fanboy fantasies. Just like the depiction of violence, it seemed to me that the filmmakers enjoyed the idea of women being brutalised just a little too much, although I am undoubtedly biased because of my generally disinterested reaction to the film and probably a long way off the mark.

‘The Faculty’, the 1998 Robert Rodriguez horror film inspired by ‘The Puppet Masters’ and ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’, is a favourite film of mine, but I have not particularly liked any of the other films of his I have seen (I haven’t seen the ‘Spy Kids’ films or ‘Planet Terror’). I don’t really like Quentin Tarantino, who Rodriguez has frequently collaborated with and who directs a scene from the ‘The Big Fat Kill’ section here – admittedly, one of the scenes that most stood out for me.

‘Sin City’ is undoubtedly attention-grabbing, up to a point, and I imagine very successful in what it sets out to do. I didn’t particularly enjoy it and although it is clearly quite clever and, perhaps, adventurous, I did not find it especially appealing, despite having a interesting cast and one or two notable performances. It has a 77% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes from 230 reviews and grossed a little under $159 million at the box office against a production budget of $40 million.

Review posted 13 September 2009


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