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Sin City (April 1/05)

Though it's a little on the long side and it takes a good half hour to get used to the unusual visuals, there's no denying that Sin City is just about the best movie to come around in a while. It doesn't help that 2005 has been, thus far, absolutely miserable, with one unimaginative, derivative film after another. If nothing else, you have never seen a movie like Sin City before.

Based on the graphic novels by Frank Miller (who co-directs with Robert Rodriguez), Sin City features three separate yet interweaving stories that revolve around the denizens of the titular town. The first stars Mickey Rourke as a seemingly indestructible goon named Marv, who is driven to revenge after Angel (Jaime King) is murdered. The second story revolves around Dwight (Clive Owen) and his efforts to prevent an all-out war between prostitutes (!) and the police. Finally, there's grizzled cop Hartigan (Bruce Willis) and his battle with the aptly named Yellow Bastard (Nick Stahl).

Sin City is easily Rodriguez's most accomplished film to date, and in terms of pure entertainment, the movie certainly ranks right up there with From Dusk Till Dawn (it's probably no coincidence that both featured the involvement of Quentin Tarantino). Rodriguez has made no secret of his passion for digital cinematography, and with Sin City, the filmmaker finally has an appropriate outlet for his voracious and enthusiastic sense of style (which has, in the past, offered up either mediocrity - ie Once Upon a Time in Mexico - or all-out tedium - ie Spy Kids 3-D). But here, fusing black and white with occasional bursts of color, Rodriguez (along with Miller) uses his manic energy to create a film that's dripping with urgency - making it easy enough to overlook the sometimes shoddy computer effects (those cars seem as though they'd be more at home in a Pixar flick).

Were the visuals the best thing about Sin City, the film would probably still be quite watchable; thankfully, the movie's look is complemented by Rodriguez's gritty, take-no-prisoners screenplay (which is, reportedly, essentially a word-for-word recreation of Miller's comics). Despite the presence of contemporary elements (ie cellphones), Sin City is clearly meant to evoke the film noirs of the 1940s, both in its style and characters (most of the male figures are merciless anti-heroes who deliver clipped, tough-guy dialogue). The most obvious deviation from those movies - aside from the relentless computer-generated effects - lies in the violence, which is surprisingly brutal and vicious (there's no way this would've received an R rating had it been in color). Interestingly, the violence never feels gratuitous; over-the-top and absurd as it may be, it absolutely fits in with the stylized world created by Rodriguez and Miller.

Of course, it's up to the actors to elevate Sin City to more than just eye-candy, and it goes without saying that they deliver (and then some). The film's various roles have been filled by a plethora of familiar faces, but there's never the feeling that certain actors have been hired just for their name value (an achievement in itself). And even with superstars like Bruce Willis and Clive Owen in the cast, it's Mickey Rourke who delivers the most engaging and compelling performance in the film. Though Marv is an incredibly immoral and evil figure, Rourke does a remarkable job of turning him into someone we're willing to sympathize with and - more importantly - root for. The end result is a character that's incredibly cool, due in no small part to Rourke's endlessly entertaining performance.

In terms of what doesn't work in Sin City, the film's only real shortcoming is overlength - something that's particularly noticeable in Owen's story, which goes on a touch too long. Still, it's hard to blame Rodriguez and Miller for their lack of restraint; there's a lot going on here, and the co-directors do an effective job of keeping things clear for the viewer. Sin City might not appeal to all audiences (that violence is awfully extreme, though not entirely unwelcome), but for those hungry for something different and innovative, the film should fit the bill quite nicely.

out of

© David Nusair