Sunday, July 03, 2005

"Sin City": take the kids!

Why your five-year-old will enjoy Robert Rodriguez's fantastic adaptation of Frank Miller's comic series, "Sin City":

1. Bruce Willis is seen hanging by the neck, naked and in the dark, struggling and choking. Real pleasant, that scene.

2. Not long after, Bruce is seen ripping a man's testicles off. Have no fear: they weren't his own.

3. Mickey Rourke gets hit by a speeding car. Four or five times, I think; it was hard to keep count.

4. Benicio del Toro gets his head crammed into a urine-filled toilet by Clive Owen.

5. Clive Owen actually shows facial expressions!

6. Jessica Alba has hips that won't quit.

7. Elijah Wood eats people.

8. The movie features a sexy, sometimes-naked lesbian parole officer.

9. Little Devon Aoki (is she half-and-half like me?) kills about twenty people all by her lonesome.

10. Rosario Dawson looks fetching in fishnet.

11. Lots of Irish people die.

12. Dudes tied to chairs get hit in the face. Many, many times.

13. Men jump from impossible heights and break into sprints without worrying about the condition of their ankles.

14. A wolf eats a guy tied to a tree.

15. Rutger Hauer (still looking old) plays a... a clergyman! The very notion had me in stitches.

16. A sea of female buttocks!

17. Beheadings!

18. Impalement!

19. Amputations!

20. A dude sits down hard on a large shuriken!

I've been waiting all summer to see "Sin City." It's easily the best of the three movies I've seen thus far, the other two being "Revenge of the Sith" and "Batman Begins." Maybe I just need my dose of R-rated ultraviolence. Luckily, "Sin City" was there to provide the fix. There were reasons to believe this was going to be a good flick: Frank Miller is the genius who drew and wrote stories for the Daredevil comic series; he also did an original series called Ronin, and is perhaps most famous for his mid-1980s graphic novel about a 55-year-old Batman, The Dark Knight Returns. Director Robert Rodriguez is known not just for light fare like "Spy Kids" and "The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl," but also for his hilarious actioners: "El Mariachi," "Desperado," and "Once Upon a Time in Mexico." Rodriguez already has a comic-bookish aesthetic sense; his pairing with Miller was wise.

Based on Miller's comic book Sin City, and made with Miller's active collaboration, "Sin City" is three stories woven together. One concerns Dwight (Clive Owen) and Jackie Boy (Benicio del Toro), a very crooked cop. Another story concerns Marv (Mickey Rourke), Kevin (Elijah Wood), and Cardinal Roark (Rutger Hauer)-- a killer, a cannibal, and... Rutger Hauer in priestly robes (sorry; I can't get over that). The third story is about Hartigan (Bruce Willis) and Junior (Nick Stahl), a good cop and the evil scion of a powerful politician.

You may last remember Stahl as the young John Connor in "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines." He was bland in that flick, but he's a fuckin' freak in this movie, and he turns in a marvelously sick performance. Elijah Wood plays against type as an expressionless cannibal who's silent as a ninja when he attacks. Nothing Frodo-like here. Benicio del Toro is hilarious as Jackie Boy. At first we think Jackie Boy is just some thug running around town with his crew, drinking and beating up women. Only later do we discover that he's a cop, and this has serious ramifications when Clive Owen's Dwight goes after him in righteous anger.

Although all the actors and actresses turned in great performances, I give the biggest thumbs-up to Mickey Rourke for an over-the-top performance as big-jawed Marv. The jaw is obviously prosthetic; "Sin City" is rendered in a campy style with deliberately bad special effects, in the manner of Tarantino's flicks. In fact, Tarantino is billed as a "special guest director," whatever the hell that means*.

Rourke's Marv is impressive as a big, dumb, ruthless killer bent on avenging the death of the one woman who would consent to have sex with him. Despite the carnage and corniness, the sentiment is almost touching. I found Marv to be one of the most human characters; Bruce Willis's Hartigan comes in second.

Stylistically, the film is noir, pulp, and energy. Filmed mostly in black and white, with significant splashes of color to highlight people and blood spatters (and the aforementioned forcibly excised testicles), it occasionally sinks down into Miller-style comic book imagery, all high-contrast and heavily inked. Bruce Willis's final scene is pure Frank Miller.

It's hard to figure out what "Sin City" is about. I suppose it's about revenge, which seems to be a common theme in films lately (cf. "Kill Bill," "Batman Begins," "Revenge of the Sith," etc.), but true to comic book form, it's also about pairings. Huge-ass Marv can take on an army, so he's matched against two main villains, Kevin the cannibal and Cardinal Roark. Hartigan is matched against Junior, the child rapist and killer. And Dwight... well, Dwight has Jackie Boy, but only until the latter falls into the clutches of a coven of well-armed urban amazons. There are Gnostic-style (or Hindu-style!) male-female pairings as well. Marv and Goldie; Dwight and Gail; Hartigan and Nancy. Symmetries of death and life, the formula found in comic books and elsewhere.

But does "Sin City" have a point? Maybe the pointlessness of the endless violence is its point; I couldn't tell you. No matter what you end up concluding about the subtext, though, you can be sure that "Sin City" will grip you by the balls for the entire ride. The movie is dark, dark, dark... so make sure your five-year-old is properly liquored up before you take him to see this flick.

*I discovered what was up. According to this review, Tarantino directed an extended bit of dialogue between Dwight and a corpse. See the movie to find out what I mean.


No comments: