SIN CITY is not for the faint of stomach. It may or may not be for the faint of heart, either, but there is such a solid, irresistible core of romanticism anchoring the interrelated tales that loosely form the narrative, that true believers in true love might be able to get past the part where the severed head cracks wise.
As with all of Robert Rodriguez?s adult fare, this one takes violence to extremes, but with a giddy, almost innocent delight at all the mayhem that he can create in his make believe world, as though none of it is meant to be taken seriously. Hence Dwight (Clive Owen), a two-bit murder on the lam from the law, can be blown up several times, as well as leap from windows very high in the air and not suffer any ill effects. Perhaps it?s his motivation. He?s on a quest to avenge his current waitress girlfriend (Brittany Murphy) and win back his old love (Rosario Dawson), the warrior-queen of hookers on the wrong side of town, by taking out the guy (Benicio Del Toro) who?s a once and future pain to both
More unlikely feats abound with Marv, played by Mickey Rourke under an impressive pile of prosthetic makeup that makes him bear a passing, if misshapen resemblance to Kirk Douglas in SPARTACUS. This tale of tender affection and hungry canines that aren?t picky about their kibble finds the man with the face of a monster and the heart of a lovesick schoolboy taking dozens of rounds of lead, leaping from even higher windows. And those are the minor obstacles. Even more rounds are taken by Hartigan (Bruce Willis), a cop pushing 60 who throws it all away to save a little girl from a fate worse than death while taking on corruption that can?t be beaten.
Make no mistake, blood flows aplenty as extremities are lopped off by gunfire and fists fly with the fury of several Mack truck, events that occur with an alarming frequency.
Based on the graphic novels of Frank Miller, this is a world of low-lifes and hangers-on with a peculiar sense of decency, even honor that drives them to do the right thing. Sometimes that means slicing people up in very unpleasant ways, but only if they have it coming. Or are associated with someone who had it coming. I suspect the stunning visual concept of the film will be what most people will note, but this unshakeable honor code, from which none of the ?heroes swerve, or even considering swerving, renders it, paradoxically, one of the most moral films of this or any other year. AndRodriguez pulls it off using what would otherwise be a morass of clich鳠that were old when Sam Spade was still gumshoeing it around San Francisco. Even lines like ?Kill him for me, kill him for me good,? delivered by a cast that understands the idiom of the hard-boiled noir story and takes it to exalted heights, work because no other way of speaking in this context would.
Rodgriguez gave Miller a co-directing credit here because of the way he translated the pages of the novel onto the screen. It?s a stylized world of high-contrast black and white occasionally punctuated with a slash of red or a spike of blue. Blood flows sometimes as a silvery luminescence, sometimes as a clotting black stain, or a seeping, stark crimson, The background city looms monumentally into the overwhelming shadows that dominate action, with camera angles that create a symphony of lines converging into infinity and back again. Thus freed from the restraints of conventional morality, or conventional reality for that matter, the characters and the audience are free to wallow in the Grand Guignol of emotions ratcheted up to a fevered pitch that would spontaneously combust in the less rarified air of our universe. And yet. . .
Visually, SIN CITY is as striking, as innovative, and as just plain beautiful as anything that ever came through a projector. A feat accomplished, as in last year?s SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW, by having most of it, save for the actors and a few props created by computer. And yet, that violence. In lesser hands it would have been a direct-to-video release relegated to the slasher section? Be prepared to shut your eyes through some of it, but the rest of it is a wild ride.