Combustible Celluloid
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With: Jessica Alba, Devon Aoki, Alexis Bledel, Powers Booth, Rosario Dawson, Benicio Del Toro, Michael Clarke Duncan, Carla Gugino, Josh Hartnett, Rutger Hauer, Jaime King, Michael Madsen, Frank Miller, Brittany Murphy, Clive Owen, Mickey Rourke, Nick Stahl, Marley Shelton, Bruce Willis, Elijah Wood
Written by: Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller, based on comic books by Frank Miller
Directed by: Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller, with Quentin Tarantino
MPAA Rating: R for sustained strong stylized violence, nudity and sexual content including dialogue
Running Time: 126
Date: 03/28/2005

Sin City (2005)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Alley Cats and Drowning Rats

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

For a little while, Sin City pulses from the screen as if it has single-handedly invented a new way of making movies. At the very least, it's one of the most fascinating attempts at capturing a comic book rhythm in celluloid form. Shot on digital video, the film appears almost exclusively in black-and-white, except for key color elements, such as a pair of blue eyes or a halo of blond hair. Blood (gallons of it) sometimes appears pure white. And, more often than not, Sin City's concrete skies hammer down rain.

Far too soon however, the film's energy dips. Events are often pitched to the rafters and begin to illicit the same reactions. It's not unlike revisiting the beloved comic books of one's youth and realizing that they're not really as good as they once seemed.

Based on the graphic novels by Frank Miller (The Dark Knight Returns) and co-directed by Miller and Robert Rodriguez, Sin City tells three stories, unified by their vulgar, murky setting and murderous mood.

Sin City is a town of outcast alley cats and drowning rats. An aged cop, Hartigan (Bruce Willis), attempts to bring down a child murderer, who happens to be a powerful politician's son (Nick Stahl). Then Marv (Mickey Rourke), a seemingly invulnerable thug with a blocky face like a Dick Tracy villain, enjoys a single night of pleasure with the one woman who has ever liked him, Goldie (Jaime King). When he wakes up next to her dead body, he vows to track down the killer.

Finally, the new boyfriend Dwight (Clive Owen) of Shellie (Brittany Murphy) attempts to get even with her violent, surly ex-boyfriend Jack (Benicio Del Toro) but brings unwanted trouble to the streetwalkers' section of town.

Part of the joy of watching Sin City is looking at the enormous, privileged cast who seem to understand that they've stepped into something unusual. Actors like Jaime King (White Chicks), who have never shown much in the way of talent, suddenly rise to the occasion and smoothly match with acclaimed -- even Oscar-nominated -- colleagues.

Each actor lives out the dream of playing in a Raymond Chandler novel, speaking only when necessary, murmuring their dialogue and punching home every snaky syllable.

The three leading men try to out-cool one another with the same brand of finesse, but, having actually lived in "sin city" himself, Mickey Rourke comes out ahead just by a nose. Josh Hartnett, who is a far more complicated and accomplished actor than he appears, turns up in a small but crucial role and performs it with equal panache.

The oddest thing about the movie is its disturbing attitude toward women. It adores women and loves admiring their beauty; King, Rosario Dawson, Murphy, Jessica Alba, Devon Aoki, Carla Gugino and Alexis Bledel are all on display to maximum ease on the eyes. But the movie also objectifies them, casting them as pleasure dolls and recipients of violence. The good guys are the ones who protect their women, while the bad guys slap them around. Though, if the women get in the way, the good guys are allowed the occasional slap as well.

Speaking of violence, Quentin Tarantino shows up in the credits as a "guest director." Presumably, he put his unique touch on one scene in which Clive Owen drives through the rain with a talking corpse in the front seat next to him. Tarantino's presence leads one to think about Kill Bill, another extremely violent film. Kill Bill, and all of Tarantino's films, have a palpable enthusiasm and a genuine love for the characters, as well as periods of rest and reflection.

Rodriguez, however, seems more intent on the film's intense style than on his storytelling or pacing. He thunders forward at every turn, and even potentially quiet moments, like driving, are played for menace. His biggest mistake occurs after the third story finishes; he suddenly picks up a story thread left off from the first episode well after the momentum has dwindled. Tarantino, of course, is gifted at chopping and switching his storylines, but Rodriguez does not have the same touch.

These reservations aside, Sin City is immensely likable and ultimately cool.

Disappointingly, this eagerly-awaited new DVD from Miramax/Dimension comes only with paltry little making-of featurette.

Ah, but with patience, we get the awesome new, 2-disc "Recut, Extended, Unrated" version, which immediately goes on my list of the year's best DVDs. Disc One has the theatrical release, plus three extra audio tracks (a commentary with Rodriguez and Miller, a commentary with Rodriguez and Tarantino and an audience reaction from the premiere. The second disc comes with a host of cool little featurettes. In one, Rodriguez shows how to make a tasty-looking breakfast burrito, and in other, we see the entire film in front of the green screen (sped up, so that it only takes 15 minutes). Best of all, we get the interactive version of the film. It's 23 minutes longer, and it allows you to watch the film's four stories separately. This makes the Bruce Willis story flow much better and improves the overall pacing. (Though several of those minutes are taken up by individual credit sequences on each of the four segments.) Finally, this very thick package includes a "Sin City" comic book.

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