Sunday, April 10, 2011

"Sin City" is a Brilliant, Visually Stunning albeit Bloody Film

While his face may not be well known, his name is synonymous with dark and gritty graphic novels. Frank Miller has been around for nearly fourty years as an comic book writer and illustrator. He was also responsible for penning the screenplays for two of the "Robocop" films, and spent years working for DC Comics, the company responsible for the "Batman" and "Robocop" comic series. Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino are both innovative and creative filmmakers with their own recognizable visual styles of film-making. This film does not belong to just one of these men. It's a seamless collaboration of the three. It's a dark, violent, star-studded and noir-style film, based on the graphic novel of the same name, written by Miller.

"Sin City" is a story about a run down, fictional locale, Basin City. There are several story lines at work in the film, but each story line is from a central character, who is, in some way, caught up in Basin City's corruption. The three principle characters represent three story lines.

John Hartigan, played by Bruce Willis, is a soon to be retired police officer who is called back into duty on his last night on the force. He takes it upon himself to rescue a young girl from the wrath of a spoiled young man, and the son of the corrupt Senator Roarke, who also happens to be a masochist and a rapist. After rescuing the young girl, Nancy, he cripples Roarke Jr. in such a way that would make any man bawl like a baby. After the rescue, he's shot and left for dead by his partner, Bob (played by Tarantino regular Michael Madsen) and falsely accused of raping young Nancy Callahan. After spending time in the hospital, he goes away to prison for eight years, letters written by Nancy under an alias being the only thing keeping him from committing suicide. He's then paroled, and sensing that Nancy is in trouble, finds her. Unbeknown-st to them, the young Roarke Jr. has also found Nancy. He's now a more masochistic, jaundiced version of his former self.

The next story involves a man with two strikes against him named Marv, played by Mickey Rourke. Marv is framed for the murder of a prostitute named Goldie, a leader of the "Old Town" district of Basin City, a "red-light" district of sorts that has long been self governed by the prostitutes who work the streets there. Marv's violent investigation leads him to an old farm on the edge of town. Come to find out that the farm belongs to the powerful Roarke family. He finds that this is a place of gruesome murder and mutilation.

The final story is one that doesn't have the parallels of the first two, but still tells of the corruption and seemingly lawless Basin City. Dwight (played by Clive Owen) is what you may call a freedom fighter, a protector of the ladies in Old Town. As it's explained in the film, a truce of sorts had been reached long ago between the police, politicians and working girls of old town. The ladies are allowed to govern and police themselves with no interference from the police.

At times, the three story lines briefly intersect, with the secondary characters interacting with the primary ones. For example, when Hartigan is paroled and finds out where Nancy works, he asks a waitress holding a tray of drinks where he might find Nancy. The waitress, Shellie (the late Brittany Murphy) directs Hartigan in Nancy's direction, to the stage on which Nancy performs for the pleasure of a crowded bar. Shellie is Dwight's lover. But the primary characters from each story line, at least in the film, never have a scene together.

While I've seen this film many times, and continue to watch in awe, I can't help but cringe at some of the dialogue. There are a few scenes in the film in which an actor, who may or may not be an intrinsic part of the scene, looks on while another actor is performing a particularly gruesome act, and simply says "Eeeeesh", as in, "I can't believe this is the only line they gave me to say in this scene." While this gives the film a certain "pulp" comic appeal, it can be tedious at times. It's a film with very dark and dramatic subject matter, but that doesn't mean that the actors have to amp up their acting to such a degree that it becomes campy. There's a lot to be said for subtlety. This is probably one of my biggest pet peeves of any actor, male or female. While some actors can "over-act" and in the next scene, even it out with a subtle action or line or combination of both, others aren't skilled enough to do this, and just end up being just outrageous and over the top. This may be seen in the form of an exaggerated facial expression, or an inflection put into a line when one isn't warranted. Some films may call for outrageous and over the top, and if it's appropriate, I love it. But if it's uncalled for, then it ruins a film for me. At times, this film is guilty of that, but it's not enough to turn me away.

This IS NOT a family friendly film. It will give young children and squeamish adults alike nightmares. But if you're looking for something uniquely beautiful, in all of it's gory and pulpy splendor, then this film is one for you.

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