Sin City (2005) dir. Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez
Starring: Bruce Willis, Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Clive Owen, Benicio Del Toro
The most subversive of mainstream films in recent years has to be Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez’s “Sin City”. Perhaps only the genuinely independent Rodriguez isolated from Hollywood in his self-sustaining mini studio operating out of his home in Austin could pull off such a feat. With fine cinematic recklessness Rodriguez shows us some of the most violent, vile and misogynistic portrayals of violence ever put to screen and made it successful.
Rodriguez takes several of Miller's storylines and combines them together to form a unique episodic narrative. There's Bruce Willis as Hartigan, a former cop, who, while saving a child from kidnap, rape and murder, unjustly takes the blame for the rap and is jailed. When he gets out he must race to save the girl, now grown up to be Jessica Alba, from the same maniacal perpetrators. Also being chased throughout the city is Marv (Mickey Rourke), a bruiser of a man whose lover is killed in bed by a mysterious sicko cannibalist played by Elijah Wood. Clive Owen rounds out the triptych as Dwight who desperately tries to stop the city from imploding under a brewing street war between the cops, mob and street whores.
It’s all told with an eye popping extreme expressionistic style – a mixture of hard boiled noir and comic book fantasy sensibilities. The dialogue from each of the three stories’ protagonists is read with heighten self-awareness. Like the narration in “The Watchmen”, Marv, Hartigan, and Dwight, speak with grandiose melodramatic eloquence to an audience aware of the noir-speak of cinema past.
If these out-of-this-world characters weren’t played with complete seriousness and integrity, the dialogue would have drowned them in ridiculous overindulgence. Before the so-called comeback or 'resurrection' of Mickey Rourke, he managed to stun us with his portrayal of Marv with sympathy and surprisingly genuine sincerity. Beneath the heavily made up false nose and boxtop haircut, Rourke somehow managed to humanize the muscular-bound monster figure. And has Bruce Willis’ expressive eyes been used to greater emotional effect than in “Sin City”? Perhaps only “Pulp Fiction.” The third anchor, Clive Owen, has the most difficult role. It’s the most talky and least heroic of the three roles, but a testament to Owen’s talents to breathe life into Dwight. And in every corner of the picture is a fun supporting performance, my favourite being the surprisingly passionate performance of Brittany Murphy as the spunky waitress from Kadie's bar.
Years from now the filmmaking philosophy and literal adaptation of the graphic novel medium will be seen as a benchmark in filmmaking. And the immersive blue-screen production methodology has never been used better. With any camera angle Rodriguez can think of at his disposal, it’s his brevity and his adherence to Miller’s frames which elevate the material to high pop art.
The new Blu-Ray edition is a must-have for any fanboy. In addition to the already in-depth special features on the well-packaged extended/recut edition from three years ago, some added goodies make it worth while. Stunningly pristine image quality aside, perhaps the gem of the BD version is a fun ‘audience audio track’. With this clicked on you get to hear the proper 5.1 mixed audio along with the recorded audience reaction to the film’s premiere at the legendary Alamo Draft House in Austin TX. More than just some canned laughter, it's a neat way to bottle the movie experience you can only get from a darkened theatre.
Now I just wish Rodriguez would get going on "Sin City 2"...
"Sin City" is available on Blu-Ray from Buena Vista Home Entertainment