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Sin City by Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller
Review by Drew Bittner
Theatrical  ISBN/ITEM#: B00005JNTV
Date: / Show Official Info /

There's nothing like a dame.

That's the theme that plays out in three (well, four) separate tales in Sin City, a film by Robert Rodriguez (Desperado, Spy Kids) based on the crime noir comic books by Frank Miller (who co-directed... and played a priest).

Miller was famously skeptical about the possibility of adapting the work. After all, it was black and white art in stories about uncompromising, hard-edged people living in the hellish Sin City. The good guys are hard-luck cases, the girls are soiled doves with hearts of gold, and the bad guys are corrupt cops, gangsters and monsters who'd give Dick Tracy nightmares. Definitely not PG-13 territory.

Rodriguez made him a believer and made him co-director. He paid for that last; he resigned from the Directors Guild of America rather than give Miller less than his due.

It paid off.

Sin City is perhaps the best transposition of comic book storytelling to the silver screen. Miller's raw vision is brought wholesale to life, starring such a dazzling array of actors it's a minor miracle that there's room up there for all of them.

Josh Hartnett and Marley Shelton start off with "The Customer is Always Right", where an encounter outside a party ends rather unexpectedly. Hartnett is quiet, assured, playing expertly to Shelton's damsel in distress; this may be his best performance.

That's followed by a tour de force performance by Mickey Rourke as Marv. Marv falls asleep in the valentine-shaped bed of a looker named Goldie, waking up to find her dead and the cops on the way. What follows is his search for Goldie's killer, which takes him on a blood-soaked rampage through Sin City. He runs afoul of the cops, the church, a cannibalistic psychopath (played with eerie intensity by Elijah Wood) and a woman who's a dead ringer for Goldie. Battered, bloodied but never beaten, Marv's the guy who says, "Hell is waking up in the morning with no idea why you're alive." His only purpose in life is avenging Goldie, a trajectory with no happy ending. Acting under heavy makeup, Rourke gives an Oscar-worthy performance as a man who won't be stopped because he has nothing left to lose. Jaime King is incredible as Goldie, and Carla Gugino is uncanny as Lucille, Marv's parole officer.

Next up is the story of Dwight (Clive Owen), who protects his girlfriend Shellie (Brittany Murphy) from a brutally abusive suitor named Jackie Boy (Benicio del Toro)... only to learn that the girls of Old Town are already on the case. Led by the salacious and savage Gail (Rosario Dawson), the "girls" are an organized posse of prostitutes who guard their turf from cops and Mob alike. When the suitor goes down hard, their fragile truce is broken and all hell's about to break loose. Dwight does his best to keep the lid on, but Irish mercenaries, a monster named Manute (Michael Clarke Duncan) and a traitor in their midst make that awfully tough. Dwight cares for Shellie, but it becomes clear that his heart is with Gail; they're two of a kind, only happy when things are at their worst. Dwight takes a swim in a tar pit, a head is lopped off, grenades are exploded and silent ninja-assassin Miho kills a lot of people. Owen and Dawson are terrific as ex-lovers with issues, while del Toro is amazing as the venomous Jackie Boy. Alexis Bledel also comes into her own as Becky, a role as far from TV's Gilmore Girls as could be.

Last up is Bruce Willis as Hartigan, the last honest cop in Sin City. Working a string of child kidnappings (all of which end as rape-murders), he tracks down the perpetrator before he can kill his latest victim: 11-year old Nancy Callahan (Makenzie Vega). The perp is Junior Roark (Nick Stahl), son of a ruthless senator (Powers Boothe). His father's contacts have kept him safe--until now. Hartigan won't back down; he shoots off Junior's hand and his favorite piece of equipment... then he's shot down by his partner Bob (Michael Madsen), thrown in jail and left to rot for eight years. His only comfort is a weekly letter from Nancy, who has never forgotten him. When he finally gets out, convinced that someone has found and is torturing Nancy, he tries to find the girl he once saved-- finding her as a feature act in a sleazy bar. Played by Jessica Alba, the grown-up Nancy is in love with Hartigan-- but he realizes that he's led the bad guy (a mysterious bald creep with bright yellow skin) right to her. They make a run for it, but don't get far enough; Yellow Bastard finds them and takes Nancy prisoner, leaving Hartigan dangling from a noose. How this plays out (and how it ties in to Marv's story) is left to the reader to discover. The last line of the segment is a heartbreaker.

Willis has rarely been better. Hartigan is one of those roles he was born to play. Jessica Alba brings out the luminous innocent in Nancy, while Stahl's first outing as a villain will be hard to top. The contrast of good and evil in this segment is as stark as the black and white it's shot in, a tribute to the acting as much as the story.

This is one powerhouse film. It's not for every taste-- the violence is stylized but still unsettling-- but the acting cannot be beat and the graphic imagery (stark black and white, no grays, with spots of color here and there) is amazing. This demands a sequel... and the opening box office weekend will almost guarantee that there will be one. Hard to say what it will include, but if it's half as good as this, there'll be lines around the block.

Recommended.

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