Saturday, April 02, 2005

Sin City Review

I saw Sin City with the Wraith Wife today. I'm not going to wet all over myself like some reviewers but it is very entertaining. It is exactly like the comic. The differences are so slight that only a comic geek who had re-read the books just this week would happen to catch them. For those who haven't read the books I'll spare the spoilers and give my impressions.

Sin City is the distilled essence of hard-boiled crime noir. All the men are pistol-packing thugs with barely supressed sadistic streaks. All the women are hookers, strippers, or promiscuous bar maids who work at strip joints. All the cops are corrupt, everyone wear trench coats, drinks whiskey and pistol-whipping is a common pastime. The good guys are only good compared to the bad guys who are darker than interstellar space.

The digital images look great. The rain comes down as white dashes. The blacks and Black and the whites are White. There's more color than in the books but not much. Occasionally the images look flat because the digital background is in a similar focus to the live-action foreground. The movement of the digital cars is particulaly cool, smooth and quick. Sometime the movement of the digital people looks odd though.

The casting was a triumph all around. Indeed in a film that relies so heavily on the images (like the books, no one goes for the plot) the casting is even more important than in a 'regular' film. The actors have to be comic book characters. This ain't Spider-Man. Sin City could almost be a silent film. Most of the spoken parts are voice-overs. I bet if the studio let him Rodriguez would have put text blocks on the screen just like the comic.

Much has already been made of Micke Rourke return as Marv. Otherwise Rosario Dawson was excellent as Gail. And I loved Jessica Alba as Nancy. Wow and wow again. Not my first choice from reading the books but it worked well. Two minor, non-speaking parts were perfectly cast. Former model Devon Aoki is dead-on as Miho. I'm sure having no dialogue helped since I doubt she can act much. Elijah Wood, who can act, nailed the other non-speaking part, Kevin. Both of these actor looked like the characters ripped straight from the pages of the books.

But the big shocker was Carla Gugino in the thankless role of Lucille. She was topless for a fair stretch and I got to say I was damn impressed. In a film filled with 20-year old girls wielding guns while wearing lingerie, the 34-year Ms. Gugino looked fantastic. She never had a gun or lingerie, just panties and attitude. She played the mother in Spy Kids and this role was the exact opposite: lesbian parole officer to psychopaths who happens to have a rocking body. Brave turn for her. Thumbs up, so to speak.

The weakness of Sin City is the weakness of film noir, thematic and stylistic repetition. The stories of Marv and Hartigan are essentially identical. The plots feel too claustrophobic, too self-contained and small. It's always night and it's always raining. Several of the locations appear in more than one story. Too many broken-down men with nothing left to live for. Too much redemption through violence. Too much self-loathing and betrayal. Too much self-inflicted punishment. Too much blood splattered in too many faces.

Unless, like me, you love this sort of highly stylized world. It's the cartoon version of L.A.Confidential. Enjoy.