Oh ye faint of heart, stay a thousand miles away from "Sin City". It’s not a safe place for you. In its dismemberments and black humor, it dovetails Quentin Tarantinoland. But "Sin City" is less snaky than Tarantino. It’s more bloody-minded and serious of purpose. It is also the first great film of 2005.
"Sin City" is based on three graphic novels by Frank Miller. The director, Robert Rodriguez, was dedicated to a vision. The dialogue and narration would be verbatim from the book. The images would be in black-and white with only splashes of color. The actors would be shot in front of green screen, so computer graphics could match the comics exactly. And most importantly, Frank Miller must co-direct. The Director’s Guild had rules against director teams, so Rodriguez resigned from it.
And by God, they pulled it off. The striking, high-contrast images would have been impossible in color. The huge cast of well-known actors is also not a gimmick. When everybody’s a star, everybody’s equal, and anything can happen.
The movie is an anthology of three separate stories. In the first, Mickey Rourke plays an ugly thug named Marv. For one night, he finds bliss in the arms of a beautiful woman. When she is murdered, Marv becomes a juggernaut aimed straight at the heart of darkness.
The second and third stories can’t match the ferocity of the first, but they’re still very worth the telling. Clive Owen plays Dwight. To avert a war between the prostitutes, the cops, and the mob, he has to retrieve a severed head. The final story is even grimmer. Bruce Willis plays a cop named Hartigan. He rescues a little girl from a pedophile. Eight years later, he must rescue the child, now a voluptuous Jessica Alba, from the same killer, whose skin is now a bright, frightening yellow.
Does the movie degrade women? They are male fantasies: strippers, prostitutes, and lipstick lesbians. When they’re not naked they’re in fishnets, leather, and heels. They get battered. But the women are in charge, manipulating men to get what they want. As in a Russ Meyer film, sometimes their breasts are eroticized; sometimes they are weapons as deadly as their guns. Hovering over the whole movie is the specter of castration.
What will the men do for their unattainable idea of love? Actual connections between men and women are fleeting. Yet these hard-boiled killers are sustained by their passion, and can find redemption there – even if they have to die to get it.
Robert Rodriguez carved out a space in which Frank Miller could be the auteur. Together they have captured what a comic book truly is, and why so many intelligent grown-ups are so serious about them. Here is a use of computer graphics we can actually feel good about. Into the wasteland of space ships and dinosaurs comes true artistry. "Sin City" isn’t just a movie – it’s a monument.
"Sin City" is playing at Kerasotes Showplace West. This and other theater and music reviews are available online at wfiu.indiana.edu. Reviewing movies for WFIU, this is Peter Noble-Kuchera.