Published at: March 21, 2005, 5:02 p.m. CST by staff
Hi, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab...
That quiet digital revolution I was talking about last week just got a whole hell of a lot louder and crazier. Just wait till you get steamrolled by this big nasty hypernoir on April 1st. If you’re anything like me, you’ll stagger away from the encounter with two blacked eyes and a broken bloody smile that will last for days.
I’ve always enjoyed Frank Miller’s SIN CITY comics. It may be the purest of all his work. Sure, his original groundbreaking DARK KNIGHT mini-series may have revitalized the comics industry and superhero films all in one fell swoop (because if you think Tim Burton’s film would have existed without Miller to point the way, you are very, very high), but it’s SIN CITY where Miller’s id runs free, unfettered even by the thinnest veneer of civilized behavior. What else could you call Marv or Hartigan or Dwight or Miho or Gail or Jackie Boy or Manute or any of the dozens of other miscreants crowded into this film? They are id, all running purely on sick, twisted impulse and self-preservation, and redemption often comes only after prolonged killing sprees.
This ain’t your daddy’s film noir.
The opening titles for this film must have the various Guilds in town pissing blood. “Shot and cut by Robert Rodriguez” makes me laugh because of how blunt it is. There’s no screenplay credit at all, and then there’s that “special guest director” credit for Tarantino as well as double-billing Rodriguez and Miller as producer/directors. Considering how closely Rodriguez said he followed Miller’s original visual layout, the co-directed credit makes perfect sense. This film plays like a perfect combination of sensibilities. When Rodriguez enjoys what he’s doing and gets caught up in it, there’s a relentless glee to his filmmaking, like he could hardly wait to capture these images on film. When the material you’re shooting is as lunatic as these three stories, it’s little wonder he was this excited. In this case, the source material was more than inspiration; it was inspired.
It’s been a while since I’ve been this enthusiastic about one of Robert’s movies. There’s just so much about this movie that is so right that it’s hard to know where to start. The first thing about the movie that you’ll notice, obviously, is the look of it. When we saw it Friday night at the Harmony Gold screening room on Sunset, it was digitally projected, and it popped right off the screen at us. The black-and-white is crisp with a rich greyscale, and the use of color as punctuation may have been done before in films like RUMBLE FISH or PLEASANTVILLE, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen it done better. It’s not the use of color highlights that feels exciting... it’s the reasons the color is used, the way it enhances the visual experience overall. It’s the same way you selectively ink a comic book. It all starts black-and-white, and then you just add the things you need to add to sell a specific idea or emotion. You’ll know immediately which segment of the film is Quentin’s because it feels totally different than anything else in the film. He shot the equivalent of one issue of the comic book, and it’s a great fit for his particular voice. Rodriguez punctuates his violence with splashes of red and yellow and white, turns it up as ugly as he can, and the result is kinetic fun that leaves you jittery.
Many of you have seen the film’s opening scene already, starring Josh Hartnett and Marley Shelton. It’s nice, with a few striking compositions, but it barely even hints at the actual tone of the movie. There’s a short sequence following that stars Bruce Willis, Michael Madsen, and Nick Stahl that gets us a little closer, but it’s still played sort of straight. There’s a shocking moment of violence at the end of the scene that finally clues us in, and then the scene shifts to Marv. It’s with his introduction that the film really kicks into overdrive. Now, you’re either a fan of early Mickey Rourke or you’re a rotten bastard. Simple enough. And if you’re a fan of his early work, then you’ll understand what high praise it is when I say that Rourke is POPE OF GREENWICH VILLAGE-good in this film. This is tremendous work by him, and the extreme make-up he’s wearing actually seems to set Rourke free. He’s a hulking brute with a tender soul, confused most of the time, extremely surprised by the temporary kindness of “an angel” named Goldie (Jaime King). Someone kills her in his bed and tips off the cops, and Marv has no choice but to shake the very foundation of the city to figure out who killed her and why.
I love that Rourke gets to play some big wild action beats here, breaking down doors and leaping through car windshields and running across rooftops, but he also has some oddly wrenching emotional moments as well. I’m haunted by the image of Marv in the rain, fully aware that he might be confused, that he might be killing for all the wrong reasons. Rourke’s given great support by everyone around him in the story. Elijah Wood is chilling as Kevin, an entirely silent character who is visually arresting and deadly. Rutger Hauer, Carla Gugino, and even Frank Miller himself all show up, and one of the most impressive things about the film is the way everyone seems to be in on the same joke, all of them playing the exact same tone. It’s important when you’re creating something this extreme. All it takes is one performance to throw the whole thing off, and everyone seems to have brought their A-game to the project. By the time this story is over, you figure you’ve seen everything, gone as dark as you can go.
And then it just keeps getting crazier.
The next story, with Clive Owen as Dwight, Benecio Del Toro as Jackie Boy, an ultra-menacing Michael Clarke Duncan, and a whole ton of outrageous women as the girls of Old Town, an independent army of whores who take care of themselves, is probably the wildest of the three stories, taking the most unusual narrative left-turns. Rosario Dawson has been coming on strong the last few years. She was great in THE 25TH HOUR, one of the few good things in ALEXANDER, and she prowls the screen in this film like a jungle cat. Dwight starts the story protecting Shellie, a bartender played by Brittany Murphy, calling her his girlfriend, but somewhere along the way, he seems to forget her completely. Can’t really blame him. He gets caught up in this crazy rollercoaster ride and he’s surrounded by all these preposterously strong women and it’s all so much goddamned fun. Of course he’s going to end up with Gail. Why wouldn’t he? They’re both willing to take on the world and tear it apart bare-handed if they have to. Devon Aoki makes an excellent Miho, her various blades serving almost as extensions of her. Keep your eyes open for Nicky Katt in one of the funniest moments of the whole film, involving a few well-aimed arrows and a dude with a swastika on his forehead.
By the time the last story rolls around and we finally get back to Bruce Willis as Hartigan, it’s good that things slow down a bit. This one’s a slow burn, and by the time it all starts to get apocalyptic again, you’re ready for it. Nick Stahl is creepy and effective as That Yellow Bastard, and Jessica Alba’s surprisingly good as Nancy, the little-girl-all-grown-up that Hartigan saved at the start of the movie. I’ve heard a lot of fanboy grumbling about Alba not being naked in the film, and as much as I would love to see her wearing nothing but chaps, I think it’s actually the right decision. Hartigan fights to preserve some essential part of Nancy’s innocence, and in this version, it seems like all the blood and pain is worth something. Willis does really good work playing a character significantly older than he is, an only-slightly more rational version of Marv or Dwight.
Miller has an almost indecent amount of fun turning the conventions of film noir inside out. The basic formula for each story is the same. We start with characters who have managed to make lives for themselves in Sin City, however sad or lonely or compromised, only to have them systematically dismantled by outside forces. I like how there’s one family in particular that seems to be involved in every fucked-up awful thing that happens in town, the Roarkes. They are all excellent nightmare machines, with Powers Boothe doing some seriously freaky work as the cornerstone of their power in town. I expect the almost-constant narration will drive some people crazy, but I dug it. It’s almost like part of the score, especially the way Mickey Rourke chews on it, savoring it like steak. And speaking of the score, the music by Rodriguez, John Debney, and Graeme Revell is excellent, all balls, a perfect compliment to the incredible imagery.
The short version of all of this is that Robert Rodriguez has come up with a wall-to-wall winner, pure cinema freebase. Between this, KUNG-FU HUSTLE, and THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY, April is the first real month of 2005 at the theater. Strap on your gun, buckle up for safety, and kick open the theater door on April 1st. SIN CITY delivers. Now I’ve got to get cracking on that CLONE WARS review and all the rest of the great stuff I’ve got brewing this week, including my interview with Robert Rodriguez. Until then...