The story, loosely threaded and told somewhat out of order (familiar to fans of Pulp Fiction—and no surprise since Quentin Tarantino is a guest director after Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s directorial credit) follows three arcs which eventually tie together as we follow strange heroes through crime, violence and immorality: the pure-hearted Hartigan (Bruce Willis), an aging cop on the trail of a U.S. senator's perverted son torturing and killing little girls; the ugly Marv (Mickey Rourke), who is vengefully tearing up the city in search of killers who took away his new love of life; the handsome Dwight (Clive Owen), a Lancelot of sorts to the street walkers of Sin City's Old Town who creates more problems than he solves. Who could draw together such a wretched trio to represent the Good, the Bad and the Ugly in us all?
From 1979 and throughout the 1980’s Frank Miller was writing and drawing some of the best cutting-edge, progressive comics ever to come from DC and Marvel, helping rejuvenate a waning medium by drawing audiences to new depths of character and art exploration in familiar old heroes, such as Daredevil and Batman. The evolution of comic stories into something reflecting an adult’s immersion in the complexity of life, the graying of morality and obscurity of day-to-day heroism forced the birth of the medium of the Graphic Novel.
Published in the early 1990’s Frank Miller’s Sin City was such graphic novel material—bloody, violent and a caricature of a forgotten time in our pulp fiction history. Enter Robert Rodriguez, whose brilliant El Mariachi endeared him to fans of the story-driven, ultra-violent pantheon filled by the likes of Reservoir Dogs and Kill Bill. Rodriguez convinced Miller to take Sin City to the silver screen, but in a way unmitigated by big-budget trappings and studio rulings. Dimension Films (Disney’s now divorced child) with Bob and Harvey Weinstein as executive producers was the perfect shepherd, with a few of the classics of the genre already their belt.
The movie succeeds no less than the classics as a faithful artistic rendition of a world beyond reality painted with little color and few rules familiar to a common moviegoer. In an inspired story-telling moment, as Dwight begins to debate his motives and his options, his conscience and wisdom are animated in the musings of a dead cop in the car seat next to him. The relationships are simple, motivations are extreme and the morals (or immorals) are in stark relief. Even the characters bleed paint and the canvas erupts into a disarray of the familiar and the repellent. Like standing back to absorb the size and scope of a manic Jackson Pollack spattering, you eventually begin to feel something of the weight and meaning behind the crazed artistry of Sin City and its brilliant innovation with the familiar.
The movie while R-rated, strays disturbingly close to NC-17 material with indescribable brutality and stark imagery that harkens back to classic horror. It’s hard to rate this film along side political thrillers and explicit romances and as such it will have a more limited audience. But that is not of concern to the artist, who concentrates his skill and exorcises his story demons in one of the most approachable and whimsical of mediums, the motion picture. (4 out of 4 stars).