With sequel A Dame To Kill For coming soon, there's no better time to revisit Robert Rodriguez's (mostly) monochromatic film noir comic book thriller.
Lately, Rodriguez has been focusing predominantly on tongue-in-cheek Grindhouse flicks so going back to Sin City was something of a breath of fresh air. Now, don't get me wrong, Machete and Planet Terror are tons of fun but there's a refreshing seriousness to Sin City which makes it feel that little bit more substantial. You can tell that the director was putting a lot of heart into this project and wasn't taking Frank Miller's works lightly, not only visually but tonally also. There is, of course, the odd burst of humour and absurdity in there but it somehow doesn't feel forced amidst the semi-earnest way in which the story is being told. There's always jokey touches in Miller's comics, usually rather dark one, and that comes through really well here, Rodriguez never letting Sin City get too outwardly silly or cartoonish. The film is shot in black-and-white save for some key startling colours here and there and stays purposefully close to Miller's original panels. This makes it probably one of the most faithful comic book movie adaptations to date.
We follow three main plots based on three of Sin City's most well known stories. One, "That Yellow Bastard", sees detective Hartigan (Bruce Willis) protect a young girl from Nick Stahl's maniac only to be betrayed by his partner (played by Michael Madsen) and the criminal's powerful father, Senator Roark (Powers Boothe). Another, "The Hard Goodbye", follows tough brute Marv (Mickey Rourke) as he is framed for the murder of his beloved prostitute Goldie and goes after those really responsible for her death. "The Big Fat Kill" focuses on Dwight (Clive Owen), who finds himself in the middle of a war between the corrupt police and the prostitutes who run their side of the city. Each story wraps up in a kind of Greek tragedy-style bittersweet way and together, they are told non-chronologically.
The all-star cast is pretty much spot-on, with Mickey Rourke excelling in a comeback role and Willis really selling the whole 40's-style detective thing. Clive Owen looks the part but is admittedly a little more wooden than the others. Meanwhile, the villains, played by the likes of Stahl, Elijah Wood, the late Michael Clarke Duncan, Benicio Del Toro and Rutger Hauer are all memorable and pretty much perfect. The film also boasts some truly kickass female characters like Rosario Dawson's Gail and Devon Aoki's deadly ninja Miho. It's bittersweet to see Brittany Murphy, who is really good in this movie, playing Del Toro's long-suffering girlfriend and, although she is usually insufferable and distractingly awful, Jessica Alba doesn't get enough lines or screen-time to screw anything up so that's definitely a good thing. Also look for for Josh Hartnett as the hitman who opens and closes the movie.
While we've seen this kind of black-and-white/colour mix in movies before, say in Rumblefish or Pleasantville, it's rarely been done quite as well as it was done here. Yes, there's an artificial feel to it that's pretty much unavoidable when you're shooting everything in front of a green-screen but this also gives the film more freedom to get the complex shots it requires and even more visual fluidity somehow. As an adaptation, Sin City captures all the cool and rough charm you'd expect from Frank Miller's twisted world and, armed with really fun performances, a badass score and Quentin Tarantino, who guest directs one scene here, it's a visual treat, a really entertaining, unique ride and a landmark in comic book movies. Whether the sequel, which will come almost 10 years after this first instalment, will match its predecessor in terms of sheer quality is questionable but I look forward to it nonetheless. Here's hoping it doesn't go all Machete Kills, losing its more serious approach and spirit.
What more can I say about Sin City? It's one of those movies that, especially if you're a comic book or film noir fan, you just have to see. It's violent, it's gory, it's very funny, very sleazy, very stylish and about as unapologetically cool as it gets. There's nothing else quite like it.