As I left tonight’s screening of Sin City
, Robert Rodriguez’s film adaptation of three Frank Miller graphic novels (with Miller infamously receiving co-director credit, a personal gesture on the part of Rodriguez which caused his break with the DGA; Quentin Tarantino also directed a scene in the film, Rodriguez wanting to seduce his celluloid-loving compadre with the new digital wizardry at his disposal), I realized that I took away two things. First, a healthy case of castration anxiety. Second, a healthy appreciation for Rodriguez’s considerable skills as a visual artist. Unfortunately, I took little else from the film, which overall, I found engaging only in fits and starts; the revenge-driven triptych of loosely-related stories being dramatically monotonous, overlong, and shallow in its depiction of Basin City’s endemic corruption (its a city where the Police, the Government, and the Church are all hopelessly corrupt, and the only “decent” people are criminal outsiders who live by a certain, code of honor).
In terms of characterization, while Sin City
may be one of the most successful 3D renderings of a graphic novel in film history, the characters are resolutely two dimensional. I’m guessing purposely so, since the characters are clearly meant to be archetypal and speak in such an obviously ultra-stylized fashion meant to be somewhat humorous, all hard-boiled noirish cliché delivered in a weirdly florid, almost formal tone. With the right combination of actor and role, the results can be exciting, even somewhat compelling (i.e. Mickey Rourke, Bruce Willis, Benicio Del Toro, Clive Owen, Brittany Murphy, and Rosario Dawson), but when it goes wrong it goes real wrong (i.e. Jessica Alba, who may be H-O-T but has proven again and again that she can’t act; Alexis Bledel, whose character’s constant references to “Mom” kept making me think of Lauren Graham, throwing me out of the picture, though her vibrant blue eyes were strangely enchanting). Luckily, all the characters benefit from a certain look, and even the worst actor melds into a seamless part of the film’s visual atmosphere.
It is in these kinds of moments where Sin City
approaches greatness, where it abandons the pretense of storytelling or drama and revels in the visual: a splash of vibrant color in a largely monochrome world; a timely switch to an stark, animated, black and white, negative image (the first appearance of the spectacled, menacing Kevin, Harrigan’s last moments); the certain coolness of an actor’s face as they gaze into the distance; a bit of caustic, brutal black humor (Jackie Boy’s wheezing, talkative corpse); the fetishization of the ample and nubile female bodies which populate the film. Still, even taking into account those moments, the film only achieves real greatness in one moment of gothic violence, as the leather and fishnet clad prostitutes of Old Town, with their ally, the trench-coated Dwight, gleefully take their bullet-fueled, bloody vengeance on the mobsters who threaten their livelihood, the stormy night sky becoming a vibrant shade of digitally enhanced, blood red. It is the one scene where Sin City
’s mixture of extreme violence and sexuality actually produced an emotional response.