Based on Frank Miller's graphic novels of the same name, Sin City takes '50s film noir movies, hypes them up to comic-book level, and then splashes them on the screen in black and white and red. In many respects, it's an amazing work of art. In other respects, it's a very naughty piece of cinema that should be taken out back and spanked on its fishnet-covered ass for violating every rule of political correctness and good taste.
Sin City takes place in Basin City, where all the women are beautiful and young and clad in slutty latex lingerie, and all the men are big and mean and just about bullet-proof. They also say things like, "He was like a palsy victim doing brain surgery with a pipe wrench," or "Kill him for me Marv! Kill him good!" And then they push peoples' faces into brick walls, and the brick walls break, and then everyone has a smoke.
There are three vaguely intersecting stories in Sin City, each one drawn from one of the story arcs in the comic-book series. In one, aging cop Hartigan (Bruce Willis) saves young Nancy Callahan (Jessica Alba) from a child rapist, only to be imprisoned himself for the crime. In another, mentally ill Marv (Mickey Rourke) goes murder-happy because his one night of love is cut short by a cannibalistic serial killer with connections to the church. And in the third segment, escaped con Dwight (Clive Owen) has to stop a mob war by getting a lot of prostitutes in fishnets to fire machine guns into ethnic men.
This is what we in the cinema business call "good clean fun." But Sin City is more than fun: It's art, just like Triumph of the Will and Birth of a Nation. Which is to say, you don't have to agree with its politics to appreciate its style.
Director Robert Rodriguez is a personal hero of mine, not because I think he makes great films, but because he told the Director's Guild of America to go have sexual relations reflexively upon their own persons. See, the DGA doesn't allow directors to share credit. That's why films that are actually co-directed by the Coen brothers list only Joel Coen as director. The DGA also doesn't allow directors to shoot their own films, which is why imaginary cinematographer "Peter Andrews" shoots all of Steven Soderbergh's films. And they don't let you edit your own movies, which is why Rodriguez now isn't affiliated with them, and instead shares directing credit with writer Frank Miller, and gives himself credit for shooting and cutting his film.
Even cooler than his F.U. to the Hollywood mob is that he edits in his garage, and adds the special effects in by hand, thus saving millions and millions of dollars while at the same time making movies that look far better and more distinctive than most of the assembly-line product that comes out of the bloody nose of Hollywood.
The visuals in Sin City are mostly based on those in the comic book, which Frank Miller both wrote and drew himself. Rodriguez pretty much used Miller's panels as storyboards, maintaining his stark black-and-white visual style, and even modeling the actors' makeup after Miller's figures. Thus, Mickey Rourke hides his horribly deformed face under makeup designed to make him look horribly deformed, Bruce Willis plays a man who's pushing 60, in spite of the fact that Bruce Willis himself is pushing 60, and Benicio del Toro wears a fake nose.
Like the women in the Sin City comic book, the women in Sin City the movie are all beautiful enough to be Jessica Alba, Rosario Dawson, Jaime King and Alexis Bledel. Surprisingly, these women are also played by Jessica Alba, Rosario Dawson, Jaime King and Alexis Bledel.
While the stories, in classic film noir mode, feature men coming to the rescue of women, Frank Miller has updated the motif by having the women carry high-powered automatic weapons and/or ninja throwing stars, and, in general, kick ass while wearing very little.
This is, of course, how the finest women act in real life (cf. Margaret Thatcher, Jane Fonda and God), but modeling reality is not the primary goal of Sin City. Rather, what Rodriguez, Miller and "special guest director" Quentin Tarantino have done is to create a cohesive world that looks and feels like the exaggerated realm of a comic book. Things don't necessarily make sense in a real-world sort of way, and if you look too closely at the stories, they have holes big enough to jam the 9/11 Commission's final report through, but that's not really the point.
The point is that Rodriguez and Miller have styled a movie that, in spite of its flaws in story and taste, is so original in its look and compelling in its odd performances that it manages to be both visually awe-inspiring and, occasionally, genuinely moving. It's certainly not for everyone. I wouldn't take children under the age of 40, or adults who are easily offended by seeing severed human heads placed on Bibles owned by perverted clergymen, but for those interested in what can still be done with narrative film, this is well worth checking out.