Comic Book Movies 101: Sin City

So Sin City gets to fall into a couple of our retrospective categories. The Comic Book Movie and also the Bruce Willis Action Hero.  But we have listed it as Comic Book as it is first and foremost; besides Willis only gets about a third of the film in which to strut his stuff.

So this is by far the closest any film has come to almost page by page, panel by panel, delivering a faithful adaptation to the screen (Sorry Watchmen, you came close). Frank Miller was on as a co-Director along with Robert Rodriguez (and yes ok I will note here that Quentin Tarantino directed one scene in a car with Clive Own and Benicio Del Toro’s corpse).

The film is clearly all about style. The shots picked, the random colours brought out to grab our attention; be it a red dress, yellow skin, white blood, a necklace, even the blue of someone’s eyes. We get a nice mood setter with Josh Hartnett playing a bit of a ladies-man hit man delivering a job. Sin City we can clearly see is a place full of lost souls, corrupt ideals, but somewhere in there is still a heart and soul, if but a suffering one.

Bruce Willis’ Hartigan then takes centre stage for the first part of his story which sees him trying to save the life of a young girl. And in Sin City style, the guilty are punished, but the righteous get punished right along with them as Willis ends up in the slammer at the cost of saving the girls life. Of course we only find this out later towards the end of the film as we believe that he may well be dead after he is shot down in cold blood by his own partner (Michael Madsen).

The film then moves onto its next segment featuring Mickey Rourke in yet another (but probably the one that really worked) comeback roles. He of course is playing Marv, the hardest bastard in the city. Barley it seems a night goes by where he isn’t pounding booze then pounding teeth in. But his arc starts with a bit of beauty as he is picked up by a beautiful Blonde. After one night of ecstasy he wakes up to find the girl dead. We are then plunged into his own private little investigation as he starts at the bottom of the streets to find out who is responsible: This is the opening of the door to a very violent segment where Marv punishes, beats, mangles, tears, rips and generally takes out every bad guy he can lay his hands on. A highlight is probably driving along with the door open as he drags a victim along with him (face down in the ground!).

It is bizarre then to find that it is Elijah Wood’s Kevin whom he seeks. This small, yet very mobile young cannibal is almost as threatening as Marv is. But even though Marv gets chained up and loses a few friends along the way – he manages to get back to the top, taking out “old fart” Rutger Hauer before finally feeding Elijah to the dogs.

Well it won’t end there for Marv – not until they have strapped him down to the electric chair for his crimes and send the juice through his system (and it takes a few tries for it to work) before he is put out of his misery.

Clive Owen then takes over the third main strand. He gets to have all the fun with the ladies as he decides to protect the honour of one girl he is seeing by taking on what turns out to be a cop and his dodgy friends (Hello Benicio).

This strand perhaps is the easiest to laugh at as the jokes are much more crude. But it is also the blackest humour you will find. This then lets it run the risk of going way over the top. And it can be argued that the final gun battle between the girls and Michael Clarke Duncan’s Manute is perhaps a little too ridiculous. But this only swells with the romance that is brewing between Owen’s Dwight and old flame Gail (Rosario Dawson).

The segment has far more to offer that just the high action. There is the initial bathroom confrontation between Owen and Del Torro which sees Del Toro’s face take the plunge while still clutchimnga  cigarette between his teeth. Miho’s slaughter down at the tar pits, or Miho’s farewell to Del Toro’s hand.

Afterwards though we return to Hartigan and it is several years later and he is out from prison having kept Nancy’s identity safe. He heads back out only to realise his freedom is to come at a price. And the moment he discovers Nancy and she sees him it is all out in the open and “That yellow Bastard” is back to wreck his revenge on both of them. Nick Stahl does a wonderful job of Junior, but to wonder what Steve Buscemi (original choice) would have been like in the role is a pleasurably wonder.

Of course it’s all chase and escape again as Hartigan for a second time has to protect the now grown up Nancy. He of course gets there just in time to turn junior into a bloody yellow pulp. Having set Nancy free and then arrives at the best conclusion to keep her identity safe, but blowing his brains out.

Now although the film has that last minute code with a return of Josh Hartnett, I think they should have stuck this coda at the end of the segment where it belonged, if only to have Hartigan’s last, er, shot be the last thing we see for this film. It is a very strong last image.

Sin City is pulp noir pushed to its visceral limits. To film this in ordinary colour would probably just make it seem grotesque and even pushing the boundaries of taste.  Funny how uber violence can be seen in this way, yet give it this type of veiling and it becomes art.

The film makers picked some very good stories to interweave here – The Customer is Always Right, That Yellow Bastard, The Hard Goodbye and The Big Fat Kill. The crossing of the characters that poop up here and there in each of the tales helps keep the world feeling like its own little community. Well that and the visual style.

Sin City 2 was supposed to come directly afterwards but there has been delay upon delay. It is still in the pipeline, but it looks almost as close to a decade later before we get it.

Steven Hurst

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