Sunday, April 03, 2005

Movie: Sin City (2005)

It’s been a long time since I checked out the number one movie in the country on opening weekend. I have a thing about crowds, particularly when they’re packed with overeager fanboys. But there was no way I was waiting to see this one.

It should come as no surprise to regular readers (you are out there, aren’t you?) that I liked it.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: SIN CITY looks spectacular. For once scrupulous fidelity to the source material (I’m looking at you, overlong Harry Potter movies) makes sense, because that source material is so ferociously visual. Frank Miller’s graphic novels owe a substantial part of their impact to their stark imagery, so why shouldn’t Robert Rodriguez meticulously recreate them? At times the film’s digital world comes across as static and a little dead, but it only adds to its claustrophobic feel.

For all its posturing, I’m not sure how truly noir the movie is. It needs a few more femmes fatale, for one thing. The women of noir are usually catalysts. The women of SIN CITY, tough as they may be, are primarily victims. Although Robert Rodriguez does deserve credit for having the vision to cast Carla Gugino, the mother in his SPY KIDS films, as a pistol-packing babe in a thong. Yowza.

The Clive Owen story is the least satisfying because it plays like issue #2 of a three-part comic. On the plus side, it does feature an army of scantily-clad prostitutes firing machine guns, which I responded to on a primal level. Several primal levels.

The Bruce Willis story comes the closest to classic noir in that it touches on thwarted, forbidden desires. The Mickey Rourke story is easily the best because it’s the most extreme, and because Rourke is phenomenal. Buried under monstrous make-up (in an echo of his work in Walter Hill’s neglected JOHNNY HANDSOME), he creates the only character in the film to transcend comic book origins and register as human. Watching him was like seeing Ralph Meeker’s take on Mike Hammer reborn.

Considering that the same corrupt family lies at the heart of all three tales, they could have been integrated better. But it’s a small quibble. Is SIN CITY essentially a compendium of tough-guy clichés served up in cutting-edge style? Yep. But I love those clichés.