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Sin City - 2005

Directed by Robert Rodriguez & Frank Miller

Written by Robert Rodriguez & Frank Miller
Based on the comic book series "Sin City" by Frank Miller

Starring Jessica Alba, Benicio del Toro, Brittany Murphy, Clive Owen, Mickey Rourke
Bruce Willis & Elijah Wood

I've never read the Frank Miller graphic novels and comic books that make up Sin City - and thus I'm not sure how much of a distinction there is between those who watched the film after reading them, before reading them, or having never read them. I've always assumed, from what I've heard, that the film is faithful to the source content - and considering how hands-on Frank Miller himself was on this project, I feel like it's unnecessary to go and compare the two. Taken by itself, I've found the movie entertaining enough to have seen it a few times now. The film's visual style is what sets it apart - a mix of illustration and live action, with an emphasis on all-black backgrounds, and as much darkness and black as can possibly be squeezed into the frame. The black & white nature of the photography adds to the overall sense of darkness in the picture - but occasionally colour elements are introduced, such as through a character's eyes, skin tone or important/selected object(s) like a red dress. All of this gives Sin City it's unique and recognizable look. Turns out a whole new kind of comic book neo-noir can be created from the concept as a whole.

The series of stories, very loosely interconnected, are comic book noir with fanciful elements allowing for fantastic and surreal storylines. Characters can be shot over and over again, be experimented upon, survive accidents and be delimbed. Nobody's immortal, but obviously the violence is more stylized, and the action is larger than life. All kinds of gruesome goings-on occur, and although not for everyone, I find it easier to accept in this format. For example, if Kevin (Elijah Wood) - (as horrible a being as he was) - were to be eaten alive by his own wolf and we were to witness scenes of it happening in a real-world context, that would be a hard scene to sit through. In this it's a disturbing thought, but the divide between me and this comic book world makes it easier to swallow. The world of Sin City has entire areas populated by hookers who deal out their own brand of justice - without police interference. From the looks of it, half the population of Sin City are prostitutes.

One story has Detective John Hartigan (Bruce Willis) saving 11-year-old Nancy (Makenzie Vega) from perverted sicko Ethan Roark Jr. (Nick Stahl) - someone protected by his senator father Ethan Roark (Powers Boothe) and Hartigan's own partner, Detective Bob (Michael Madsen) tries to save him (a course of action that would see Nancy raped and killed.) Another story sees man mountain Marv (Mickey Rourke) on the warpath after a woman he's fallen for, Goldie (Jaime King) is killed during a frame-up. He finds out that Cardinal Patrick Henry Roark (Rutger Hauer) is at the top of that particular "food chain", along with the monstrous cannibal, Kevin (Elijah Wood) - who eats hookers and puts their heads on his wall as trophies. Elsewhere, Private Investigator Dwight McCarthy (Clive Owen) gets involved with cop "Iron Jack" Rafferty (Benicio del Toro), him being the ex-boyfriend of his current girlfriend who likes to beat girls up. Rafferty gets killed in the prostitute-run Old Town, causing an all-out gang war. All stories are bookended in short scenes involving hit-man The Salesman (Josh Hartnett) - it's all hard-hitting stuff.

If I were to try and describe the feel of all this, I'd say it's a mixture of The Big Sleep, Pulp Fiction and a Bugs Bunny Cartoon - and I'm not being facetious there, but trying to give some kind of impression as to the alternate reality we enter when we look at the Sin City universe. It's a stylized freeform noir world where just about anything can happen. The stories we watch are usually narrated by the main characters in them, and the dialogue conforms to that classic Raymond Chandler style of quip-filled asides, clever observations and ruminations. The ensemble of talent is quite mighty, and as such there are no issues performance-wise. The soundtrack leans heavily on jazz and brass-infused older style classic noir sounds are mixed with newer, synthesized kind of beats. There's quite a lot of range which covers different themes and characters - and the music is of a kind you could quite enjoyably listen to without even watching the film.

I find Sin City to be an interesting, direct descendant of classic film noir - with private detectives, cops, femme fatales and conspiracies all mixed together in the back alleys, rainy streets and dark nights these tales usually play out in. I've always really liked it - without being a super fan (I never got around to seeing the sequel or reading the graphic novels.) Something this over the top was always going to appeal to me to some degree, and there's absolutely no debating the visual flair the film has. It's absolutely gorgeous, and it's mix of animation and live-action has a look that was completely original in it's day. Above and beyond anything else, it was the look of the film that made it the success it is - not to take anything away from the gritty, seedy and squalid noir storylines. Apart from the visual flair, the other key factor is that dialogue we hear in the various narrations - noir poetry in the classic sense, which I enjoy hearing very much. I know Sin City has it's super fans - but I'm just a guy who enjoys it very much. I didn't at all mind having the excuse to watch it once again.