Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez
(with special guest director Quentin Tarantino)
Michael Clarke Duncan……….Manute
Nick Stahl……….Junior/Yellow Bastard
Benicio Del Toro……….Jackie Boy
Dimension presents Sin City. Written by Frank Miller. Shot and cut by Robert Rodriguez. Guest directing by Quentin Tarantino. Running time: 124 minutes. Rated R (for sustained, strong, stylized violence, nudity and sexual content including dialogue).
Is Sin City a place or is it a state of mind? The black-and-white backdrop, the rain soaked streets and the red 1950s convertibles are just window dressing. Living in Sin City is like a badge of honor. Walk down any back alley and it’s possible to see a voluptuous prostitute soliciting a customer. Or possibly someone breathing his last breath. The mean streets have so much filth and grime on the pavements that you will run your tongue over the front of your teeth and thank God your plaque isn’t as bad.
The residents of Sin City live the life of debauchery and decadence. Stroll into the gin joint Kadie’s and you are likely to see middle-aged men ogling the female entertainment. All of them have their reasons for being there. Married life not so hot? Try Kadie’s. Just got your minimum wage paycheck? Go to Kadie’s. As they drink their shortcomings away you know they all have a story to tell. Frank Miller is their mouthpiece. Created in the early ’90s, the Sin City comics are hard-boiled graphic tales with stylized violence, guns, scantily clad broads, and bullets. Lots of bullets.
Style and substance are the yin and yang of filmmaking. Some films have both traits. Most do not. Robert Rodriguez (Desperado, the Spy Kids series) has built his reputation as a filmmaker who breaks all the rules. (He left the Director’s Guild of America when the DGA wouldn’t allow Frank Miller to have co-director credit for Sin City.) This “rebel without a crew” has quite the killer instinct when it comes to making movies. His “fast, cheap, and in control” idiom makes for entertaining fare, but leaves room for discussion in the substance department.
With the help of a graphic novel Rodriguez has found his calling card. His latest endeavor is the perfect combination of style and substance. In fact, Sin City isn’t an adaptation at all. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy. A comic book with a pulse. Through digital effects, revealing costumes, and hideous-looking makeup (picture hamburger meat in a food processor), the characters drink and smoke and chew the scenery with hard-edged dialogue.
The three stories in this Miller/Rodriguez collaboration are self-contained narratives, more or less, but include cameo appearances by other characters. One story has Marv (Mickey Rourke), a gruff, monster of a man, waking up to find his perfect woman, the goddess (Jamie King), dead. Clive Owen is a good guy with bad habits who inadvertently disrupts the balance of power between the cops and the hookers of Old Town when a sadistic cop (Benicio Del Toro) is killed within its city limits. The last story involves a browbeaten cop a few hours away from retirement who tries to tie up one loose end. His grudge is with a corrupt U.S. senator’s son. A pedophile (Nick Stahl).
Flipping through my trade paperback copy of the first Sin City tale, I can’t help but notice the attention to detail. It is unparalleled. Every frame is a working storyboard. Snapshots constructed to show the vivid action sequences. For some of his narratives Frank Miller uses color to accentuate the black-and-white look. Without it, the Yellow Bastard wouldn’t look like the Yellow Bastard.
Besides the three male protagonists, Sin City has its fair share of vivid characters. Rosario Dawson plays Gail, a dominatrix and so-called leader of the Old Town hookers. She wears fishnet stockings and stiletto heels that are meant for walking up and down the backs of paying customers. Her wild array of handcuff accessories could also come into play. You might be taken aback seeing the curvature of Carla Gugino’s body in black-and-white. First a Spy Kid mom and now a parole officer. Criminals should consider their career path. Having a parole officer with the body like Lucille may not be so bad.
Elijah Wood definitely answers his critics who thought Frodo Baggins was too much of a wuss. Wood plays Kevin, a different kind of beast altogether – the strong and silent type. He’s a killer who has a penchant for human flesh – of hookers especially. His fingernails extend so he can slash his victims with ease. And when he’s not eating hookers he likes to read the Bible while sitting on the porch. Now that’s classy.
Frank Miller’s participation on the set each day provided a sounding board for Robert Rodriguez. By following the graphic novels almost literally the two made some tough choices. The nudity was toned down. (Sadly, the Jessica Alba striptease was edited.) It’s surprising that more of Frank Miller’s work (Batman: The Dark Night Returns, Daredevil: The Man Without Fear) hasn’t been translated to screen. I guess Hollywood was disappointed with Miller after Robocop 2 and Robocop 3. But there is a glimmer of hope. Not all of the stories made it into the film. There are plenty of Sin City tales yet to be made.
The special guest direction by Quentin Tarantino is another nice touch. Sure, the movie is the baby of Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez; but seeing the name “Tarantino” emblazoned on the screen will make any fan boy’s mouth water. He has that pop culture irreverence about him that is hard to pin down. Rodriguez had an ulterior motive when he brought Tarantino on board. He was the emperor luring Anakin Skywalker (Tarantino) to the dark side of digital filmmaking. Tarantino’s guest direction is during the second story. (It’s the scene that plays like an acid flashback with Owen having a conversation with Del Toro, who has a gun barrel stuck into his head.)
Sin City is a town, and a movie, without limitations. Vintage cars rule the blacktop. Women look like they are straight out of the 1970’s. Antiheroes are all the rage. Their actions have meaning. Their consequences are dire. There are only two ways out of Sin City. One is by car. The other, a body bag.