Blood and bullets in a soulless ‘City’Robert Rodriguez is a bipolar filmmaker. His movies for children, which include the three “Spy Kids” films, are chock full of roller coaster action sequences featuring brave characters up against impossible odds. His films for adults have that too, but they lack the ingredient that bound “Spy Kids” together ― heart. His latest movie, “Sin City,” a highly stylized adaptation of Frank Miller’s seminal comic book series, is a perfect example.
Critics accused Rodriguez’s “Once Upon a Time in Mexico” of being more concerned with atmosphere and explosions than with narrative, and, though the atmosphere in “Sin City” is thicker and the explosions louder, for the most part the plot is still empty.
“Sin City” is divided into three vignettes, each adapted from a different Miller story. The common thread in all three is their location and the nasty, powerful villainy that pervades them. Hardigan (Bruce Willis), Sin City’s last honest detective, is after Junior Roark (Nick Stahl), a senator’s son and a serial child rapist and murderer. Marv (Mickey Rourke), a “two-time loser,” is after the cannibalistic Kevin (Elijah Wood), who killed a prostitute who took refuge in Marv’s intimidating arms. Finally, Dwight (Clive Owen), an escaped murderer, finds himself the appointed savior of the red light district when prostitutes “accidentally” kill the hero cop Jack Rafferty (Benicio del Toro).
The one thing “Sin City” has, besides a lot of colorful blood, is style. The film’s unique visuals were created by shooting almost everything on green screen. Most of it’s in black and white, but certain shots call for more color and others for even less. The results are very effective. Evil looks evil, whether it’s glowing white glasses on black (Kevin) or sickly yellow skin that almost seeps off the screen (Junior).
There are some moments of black humor: Owen hallucinating a conversation with a nearly decapitated del Toro is unexpected and amusing. Is it a coincidence that this is the one scene in the film helmed by “guest director” Quentin Tarantino?
The city has its own physics. Cars bounce over hills and around corners as though driving on the moon, and explosions, bullets and fists leave everyone that matters totally unscathed, except when the plot calls for them to keel over. Unfortunately, this renders the inevitable tragic goodbyes more than a little forced.
Though Hardigan’s story provokes some genuine emotion, it’s hard to feel anything for him, not to mention Dwight and Marv. This isn’t because their actions aren't justified, but because the constant aural and visual assault of fists hitting heads, heads hitting walls, bullets hitting everything and worse dulls the viewer to any impact their stories might have had. Masking the violence with rotoscoping is an innovation, but as long as the shapes on the screen are human and the sound effects realistic and deafening, the digital makeup doesn't help much.
It’s clear that “Sin City” is Rodriguez’s baby. He produced it, co-directed it, shot and edited it, and he even co-wrote the script and the music. Maybe next time Rodriguez can leave a few of those tasks to someone else and spend more time giving his cool pictures some soul.
Thriller / English
by Ben Applegate