Monday, May 18, 2009

Sin City (2005)

Wow it had been so long since I'd seen this movie. When it first came out I obsessed over it for weeks and weeks, and then again when I got it on DVD, so I'd since been taking a break. But the other night it was just Time. Sin City adapts several Frank Miller graphic novels directly to the screen (there isn't even a screenwriting credit, just credit to the source material), divided into three major interconnected stories and one short. Each one details the type of sordid events intrinsic to Basin City, a wretched hive of scum and villainy if I ever heard of one, in which halfway-decent people are hard to find and hard to keep alive when you do.

"The Customer is Always Right": This short opening piece stars Josh Hartnett as The Salesman, a hired assassin, seducing an unnamed woman (Marley Shelton) just before he kills her. It's a beautiful scene, perfectly setting the stage for the heady concoction of gorgeous cinematography and ultraviolence that lies ahead. The color is used to exquisite effect- the brief glimpse of eye color as her cigarette sparks remains one of my favorite visual moments of the film. The Salesman also serves as a convenient bookend, appearing in the film's final scene with a wink and a smile to presumably knock off another character.

"That Yellow Bastard" (Part One): Hartigan (Bruce Willis), a stern and dedicated honest cop, "pushing 60", rushes into the lair of Junior (Nick Stahl), child rapist and son of a senator. He aims to save 11-year-old Nancy Callahan (Makenzie Vega, younger sister of Alexa Vega who starred in Rodriguez's Spy Kids trilogy) from his clutches, knowing that Junior's connections will protect him from any action by the general police force. Despite his age and heart condition, he manages to be pretty badass. Unfortunately his partner (Michael Madsen) turns on him, a party to corruption like most of the people with power in the city. It crescendoes bloodily of course, but it is clear that Hartigan's story is not yet over...

"The Hard Goodbye": Don't know what all this "Mickey Rourke's turn in The Wrestler is his first decent role in ages, yay for comebacks" talk is about, because his starring role in this segment is certainly memorable. He plays Marv, a thuggish ex-con with a menacing, unnatural face and a history of hallucinations. The beautiful Goldie (Jaime King) gives him the night of his life, and ends up murdered as he slept next to her. Now Marv is on the hunt for her killer, feeling indebted to her for showing him such kindness (other women were always afraid of him). He interrogates a score of low-lifes in a variety of painful ways, working his way up to the head of a conspiracy involving prostitution, murder, and cannibalism. He has to press on through his fears of mental illness and avenge Goldie, despite multiple attacks from a Goldie-lookalike and a lightning-fast, closed-mouthed fighter (Elijah Wood). Hopefully he won't have to kill any bishops.

With Marv's comically irreverent inner monologue and the story's incredible immorality, this segment captures well the black humor central to the comic. Marv's likability keeps his gruesome acts from becoming too sickening. Everything is very, very over the top and that is probably the point. The selective color in this one is largely red, and mostly blood. Not that there's anything wrong with that. There are also some lovely moments with Goldie, who has been imbued with subtle incandescence and soft overall color, marking her as an "angel" in Marv's mind. Plus Carla Gugino is there! She is always awesome, but often in awful movies. In fact when I try to explain who she is to people who haven't heard her name, I usually say "The lesbian parole officer who's super topless in Sin City" and I get instant recognition. Of course.

"The Big Fat Kill": Easily my favorite, this segment follows Dwight (Clive Owen), a mysterious ex-con currently dating Shellie (Brittany Murphy), a talkative waitress at Kadie's Bar, which is featured in all three major stories. When her abusive ex Jackie Boy (Benicio Del Toro) shows up at her apartment with four bro pals, Dwight takes it upon himself to teach him a lesson. After the group is convinced to leave, he follows them out of fear they'll drunkenly hurt someone else. They drive up to Old Town, a special part of the city operated solely by well-armed prostitutes. This set-up is part of a shaky truce in which the cops leave the women alone so they can do their business and protect themselves against the mob and pimps, while they work the police force for free. It's helped the women turn around the "bad times" when they were overrun by outside forces, but is constantly on the brink of crashing down around them. Jackie Boy holds a secret that could easily bring the bad times back, and Dwight takes it upon himself to work together with leader and old flame Gail (Rosario Dawson) and seriously skilled Miho (Devon Aoki) to prevent that from happening. There's a lot of fighting and explosions and guns. And partial decapitation (well, just one).

This was the first time I ever saw Clive Owen in anything, and I totally had an instant crush on his character. He's so cool. It's the accent, I suppose. And unflappability. And bright red shoes. Anyway this segment is the most interesting to me. I loved the cha
racters, and it was nice to see women, you know, doing something, even if it was incredibly scantily clad (it's Frank Miller, I'd expect nothing less). The women of Old Town are a force to be reckoned with, both in looks and deadly control of weaponry. Miho is so awesome, wordlessly utilizing her crazy sword and throwing-star skills at every opportunity. I wish she was in it more though. This story also features a scene directed by Quentin Tarantino (it is so hard for me to reconcile the fact that one of my favorite directors is bffl with such a hideous, disgusting creature. Ughghghgh. Not that I don't watch Tarantino movies, I just am grossed out by him as a person). Nope, it's not one of the ninja-related ones like one might assume, but rather a completely dialogue-driven scene (what else?) between Dwight and a strangely injured Jackie Boy. Pretty funny, and pretty colors.

"That Yellow Bastard" (Part Two): Oh snap, Hartigan's back! It's 8 years later (bringing it to around the time of the other stories) and he's been cooped up in jail, part of Senator Roark's revenge for the damage Hartigan did to Junior's child-spawning area. He goes to find Nancy, who's been writing to him this whole time, to discover that she's an exotic dancer at Kadie's Bar. He had thought she'd been hurt or kidnapped, but it was all a ploy by Junior to get to both of them again. The two are on the run from the spoiled brat and his thugs, but there's no stopping everything from coming full circle. Is Hartigan too old to save Nancy once again? Will Nancy be able to do anything to save herself? (Probably not, I mean, she is a woman.)

I actually liked Jessica Alba in this (she can get on my nerves). She's cute and strong and looks good in a sexy cowgirl outfit. I imagine that whenever Bruce Willis asked himself "Why am I doing this movie again?", he would then recall that he totally gets to make out with Jessica Alba, so whatever. Color was used exceptionally here, mostly for the Yellow Bastard's sickly, stink-ridden blood. You could feel how despicable he was. I also really liked the scene in which Hartigan is in Kadie's looking for Nancy, and she is in full color while he remains black and white. Nice. I like this story but it doesn't excite me as much as the other two. Maybe because there's no mystery. It handles more serious and real subject matter than the others (yes murder and cannibalism are serious, but sexual abuse is more relevant to most moviegoers, I'd imagine), and is less over the top. There's nothing wrong with that, but it sort of takes away from the film's theme as a whole- it just doesn't flow as well. I do love Junior's bodyguards, though: "two thugs with delusions of eloquence". Hilarious.

Sin City is just so many things I love about film and storytelling in general all rolled up into one beautiful package. The non-linear and broken up plot structure, the exceptional choreography, the little nods to other stories with interconnected characters, the excellent cast, the utter faithfulness to the source material, the gore and violence so copious even someone as squeamish as me can appreciate it... everything is just pretty great. Obviously, it has its problems. It's a little overly-silly at times; especially once the novelty of watching it wears off, some kooky dialogue moments pop out more and more. It's dominated by white dudes who never shut up, but I guess that can be said about most movies that aren't romantic comedies. But it's also the kind of movie whose beauty, wit, and imagination shine brighter than its flaws. I can look past them easily and see only the things I love. Then I wonder what the hell Rodriguez is doing that can justify not working on the sequel to this for four whole years. Sigh. I love the man for his undeniable talent, not so much for some of his project decisions.



  1. Robert Rodriguez probably has some talent, but he's just done many bad films in the past.

    While all the parts of Sin City are extremely entertaining, I got to admit that it was the part with Bruce Willis and Jessica Alba that I liked the most. Of course, the other parts of the film thrilled me. However, since I enjoy dramatic and strong performance, I got to admit that the good performance by Bruce Willis and Jessica Alba (who finally gets to play an interesting role) made me like it. Good film, in general.

  2. I think Rodriguez's thing is that he always wants to make movies for his kids. That's why we got three Spy Kids and The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lava Girl and his upcoming film Shorts. But I've loved all of his movies for adults.

    And I can see why the Bruce Willis story would be a favorite- it's much more intense than the others and forgoes an over-indulgence of violence for a focus on relationship and political corruption. And definitely great performances!