Director(s): Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez (and Quentin Tarantino)
Starring: Bruce Willis, Mickey Rourke, Josh Hartnett, Benicio del Toro, Jessica Alba, Rosario Dawson, Brittany Murphy, Nick Stahl, Clive Owen
The UK release of ‘Sin City’ caused quite a stir in 2005. Visually and stylistically ground-breaking, ‘Sin City’ brought Frank Miller’s work to life, making it jump off the screen and grab the audience by the throat. Incredibly violent and utterly unforgiving, ‘Sin City’ was true to the original comics and also to the hard-boiled, pulp-fiction genre, popularised in the 1950s. Classified as neo-noir, it is utterly impossible to identify the film’s temporal setting, due to the use of cars from the 1930s and 1950s, a modern Ferrari and costumes that straddle half a century at least.
The brilliance of this film relies on Frank Miller’s original work and his co-direction with Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino. A quick catch up in case you missed it: Frank Miller is an American writer and artist – responsible for many well-known comics and graphic novel characters – and a published author. His portfolio includes ‘Ronin’, ‘Daredevil’, ‘Batman’, ‘Doctor Strange’ and ‘300’, and he also invented, penned and inked the character Elektra. Miller’s style sticks to conventional comic book standards but other influences can be seen; for instance manga in ‘Ronin’ and film-noir in ‘Sin City’. He has also written film scripts for ‘RoboCop 2’ and ‘RoboCop 3’, however, ‘Sin City’ was his directorial debut. Robert Rodriguez – the American screenwriter, director and multi-talented producer (editor, writer, cinematographer – the list is long) – has a close collaboration with all-round film wizard and alchemist Quentin Tarantino (no explanation necessary).
‘Sin City’ is a series of inter-woven, multi-dimensional storylines from four, separate, original comic books: ‘The Customer is Always Right’, ‘That Yellow Bastard’, ‘The Hard Goodbye’ and ‘The Big Fat Kill’.
The brief, opening scene features The Salesman (Josh Hartnett) and the customer (Marley Shelton) finalising a most unusual transaction – he has been paid by the customer to end her life. The second story focuses on police officer John Hartigan (Bruce Willis), who is running out of time to save eleven-year-old Nancy from serial child-killer Roark Junior, the son of wealthy Senator Roak. What transpires is a web of deceit and corruption that runs through the police force to the top of the political sphere. ‘The Hard Goodbye’ features Marv (Mickey Rourke), a craggy vigilante seeking to avenge the murder of his love Goldie (Jaime King) murdered in his bed following a one night stand. His search for the killer takes him to Old Town, the seedier side of Basin City, in his search of the killer. ‘The Big Fat Kill’ introduces many more characters and plenty of violence and death, with twists and turns that finally bring us back to The Salesman Josh Hartnett, who is also the narrator throughout the film.
To say the plot is complex would be an understatement and it really doesn’t matter because this film is NOT about narrative – it’s all about style, with a monochrome palette and vivid splashes of colour. In this respect the film is very close to the actual comic books. It was also highly original in the use of high-definition, digital cameras to capture the material. This was early days for the technique and the footage was shot in full colour then converted to black and white, with the addition of colour contrast to highlight the blood, the costumes, grotesque make-up and other key elements.
The number of A-list stars in this production is extraordinary, often with small parts or a fleeting appearance. The estimated budget was $40 million, but returns at the worldwide box office to date have exceeded $158 million. Critically acclaimed for its innovative and original content, there were some negative responses aimed at the film’s unremitting violence and misogyny.
At the end of the day, ‘Sin City’ is a truly spectacular production with a formidable cast, and a textbook example of film-noir and everything that the genre adheres to – I loved it.