Surprise! Sin City is a mega-violent, highly potent vial of noir crack. And judging from the riotous burst of applause at the end of our screening, one that's destined to be a Matrix-style mass-cult classic.
Okay, so Sin City isn't really a comic book movie - it's a graphic novel movie. And in spite of the title, the locale isn't the tourist-friendly and brightly-lit Vegas strip but "Basin City," a noir Nowheresville, a mid-century L.A. with snow flurries and dark sewers, enveloped in permanent midnight.
Frank Miller, the creator of the Sin City graphic novel series, retained creative control and even gets a co-directing credit with Robert Rodriguez, inventing a 2.5-dimensional world of crime, jealousy, revenge, and counter-revenge. While Quentin Tarantino is credited as "special guest director" (as if this were an episode of ER), the movie's got his bloody handprints all over it. Sin City features the most extreme and constant ultraviolence to assault multiplexes since Kill Bill, and its structure has a more than a whiff of Pulp Fiction (and not just because Bruce Willis plays one of the few men of honor in the movie).
The three intertwining storylines are nothing special, but the performances and pacing keep them compelling. A dying cop (Willis) tries to protect a young girl from a sadistic madman (Nick Stahl) who's also the son of a senator. A disfigured and seemingly unkillable brute (Mickey Rourke) seeks to avenge the murder of a prostitute he loved. And a murderer (Clive Owen) on the lam supports a well-armed hooker mafia in a street war against corrupt cops, vicious pimps, and Irish mercenaries.
Along the way, faces are bashed, crotches are blasted, limbs are severed, heads are stuffed and mounted, and a bad guy gets "turned into a Pez dispenser" with a long blade. No one - man, woman, even child - is spared the pain. Against a mostly black-and-white digital landscape, blood splatters and gushes in white, red, and yellow like it's the Texas paintball massacre. Sin City's look is remarkably true to the graphic novel form, with bandages that glow through the darkness and green eyes and red dresses that leap from the colorless backgrounds.
If you can handle all the sadism and brutality, there's a thrilling and sprint-paced movie to be enjoyed, populated with dangerous and marvelous anti-heroes. Rourke is especially enticing under a heavy coat of scar tissue, narrating savage money lines like, "I love hit men. No matter what you do to them, you don't feel bad." The female characters, especially Rosario Dawson as the madam of the hooker mafia, are as rough as the men but almost illegally hot.
For noir fans whose sensitivity to violence has gone the way of the PG-rated action movie, Sin City is worth a whole gaggle of viewings. It's a meticulously-crafted weapon of a movie that will please, disgust, and inspire loyalty among comic fans and strong-stomached general audiences alike.
Oddly for such a beloved film, the DVD includes only one extra: A making-of featurette.
X marks the spot.
Run time: 124 mins
In Theaters: Friday 1st April 2005
Box Office USA: $74.0M
Box Office Worldwide: $158.7M
Distributed by: Dimension Films
Production compaines: Dimension Films, Troublemaker Studios
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 78%
Fresh: 190 Rotten: 55
IMDB: 8.1 / 10
Starring: Bruce Willis as Hartigan, Mickey Rourke as Marv, Clive Owen as Dwight, Jessica Alba as Nancy Callahan, Elijah Wood as Kevin, Josh Hartnett as The Salesman, Jaime King as Goldie/Wendy, Rutger Hauer as Cardinal Roark, Benicio del Toro as Jackie Boy, Rosario Dawson as Gail, Michael Clarke Duncan as Manute, Devon Aoki as Miho, Alexis Bledel as Becky, Brittany Murphy as Shellie, Powers Boothe as Senator Roark, Marley Shelton as The Customer, Nick Stahl as Roark Jr./The Yellow Bastard, Michael Madsen as Bob, Carla Gugino as Lucille, Makenzie Vega as Nancy (11 Years), Frank Miller as Priest