In the 1980s, Miller found fame writing and drawing rough, revisionist treatments of Batman and Daredevil (Elektra, Jennifer Garner's ninja chick, is his creation). With Sin City, he offered tales of revenge and corruption in high-contrast black and white, as if striving to make a comic book as dark as possible, both literally and figuratively. The obsessively faithful film version takes the comics as both gospel and storyboard, shot by shot and line by line.
All the interlocking tales track antiheroes who take on Basin City's sadistic power brokers for chivalrous motives. Hartigan (Bruce Willis), a cop with a bad heart, risks life and career to save an 11-year-old girl from a senator's psycho son (Nick Stahl). Marv (Mickey Rourke), a massive, malformed bruiser, declares war on the underworld to learn who killed his angelic one-night stand, Goldie (Jaime King). Tough, enigmatic Dwight (a nervy Clive Owen) tries to thwart an abusive goon (Benicio del Toro) from harming more women.
Rodriguez and Miller sear vivid images into audiences' brains, often by placing actors against featureless shadows. Marv and Goldie entwine on a heart-shaped mattress. Dwight's milk-white silhouette sinks into a tar pit. A prison's solitary-confinement cage seems to float in a void. Redness at times flares in the monochromatic world: lipstick, Goldie's gown, Dwight's high-top sneakers, and especially blood. Sin City is black and white and red all over.
Rodriguez photographed Sin City's ensemble primarily against a green-screen background and filled in the details later with computers, not unlike Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow's virtual sets. Some of the actors seem as stranded as Sky Captain's cast, saddled with campy lines like, "Kill him, Marv. Kill him good!" But Rourke, almost unrecognizable in disfiguring makeup, has a hulking charisma that plays superbly off his two-fisted public image.
Sin City never apologizes for wallowing in brutal action and sex. Carla Gugino, as Marv's parole officer, slinks through nude scenes that'll launch a thousand websites. But the various plots cover the same ground until the film seems to unspool the same story over and over. There are two serial predators who target women, two face-in-the-toilet gags, multiple emasculations and countless decapitations. In one especially gruesome shot, a row of women's heads line a wall like hunting trophies.
The script tries to make up for its misogyny by having a band of empowered prostitutes (led by a palpably feral Rosario Dawson) serve as their own pimps and vicious protectors. But making women perpetrate violence doesn't really redeem showing other women as the victims of violence.
Sin City cheesily heralds the participation of Quentin Tarantino as "special guest director" for helming a blackly comic conversation between del Toro and Owen. But Tarantino, for all his excesses, reveals a subtler sensibility than his old buddy Rodriguez. In Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill Volume 2, Tarantino pushes genres in unpredictable and resonant directions. Rodriguez tackles similar trashy material with enormous gusto, but never seems to think deeply about it.
Sin City amounts to little more than a heedless immersion in such hormone-fueled preoccupations as comic books, femme fatales, fight scenes, big guns, even classic cars and model dinosaurs. Its overcooked narrative finds bloodlust to be indistinguishable from other kinds of lust, and probably reveals more than it intends about the mind-set of adolescent boys of all ages. For all its stylistic panache, Sin City can make you embarrassed to be a geek.
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