Welcome to Basin City, a particularly nasty place that exists in the imagination of graphic
novelist Frank Miller and which is the setting for SIN CITY, Miller’s collaboration with maverick
filmmaker Robert Rodriguez.
The film is an attempt to recreate Miller’s unique vision on film and the pair have done a fairly
good job of being faithful to the original. Meshing together three major stories that overlap ever so
slightly, Rodriguez and Miller have fashioned a visually intriguing yet not wholly successful motion
picture. If only they had spent as much attention to crafting a tighter, more coherent screenplay as
they have to the stunning visuals, then SIN CITY might have been a great movie.
Honestly, I had high hopes for this one. Having read a lot of the pre-release publicity, I
was stoked to be entertained and swept away into the world that Miller created. But what he
and Rodriguez have done is almost shot for shot recreated panels from the graphic novels. What
may work on the page doesn’t necessarily translate to the screen, in spite of the best efforts of the
large and talented cast. (Sometimes too much fidelity is as bad as taking too many liberties.)
The movie opens well with an encounter between a mystery man (Josh Hartnett) and a
woman (Marley Shelton) in a red dress – one of the odd splashes of color that break up the
otherwise black-and-white world. What appears to be a seduction soon takes a different turn.
The action then shifts to one of the three main storylines. First up is the tale of ailing detective
Hartigan (Bruce Willis) who despite the interference of his partner (Michael Madsen) attempts to
save 11-year-old Nancy (Makenna Vega) from the clutches of a pedophilic kidnapper (Nick Stahl),
the son of a powerful politician (Powers Boothe) and the nephew of an equally corrupt cleric
(Rutger Hauer). Hartigan manages to wound the villain and saves the girl, but he’s framed for
murder and sent to prison.
The second tale centers on tough guy ex-con Marv (an unrecognizable Mickey Rourke)
who finds unlikely love with a beautiful hooker Goldie (Jaime King). When Goldie turns up dead,
Marv knows he’s the prime suspect and he turns to his lesbian parole officer (Carla Gugino) for
assistance. They run afoul of Kevin (Elijah Wood), a strange young man with cannibalistic
tendencies. Kevin, in turn, is linked with Hauer’s priest. Of course, Marv ekes out revenge in a
particularly grusome fashion
The third part centers on fugitive Dwight (Clive Owen), who has returned to Basin City and
begun a relationship with waitress Shellie (Brittany Murphy). When Shellie’s ex-boyfriend Jackie
Boy (Benecio Del Toro) shows up at her door, trouble follows. Dwight chases him to Old Town,
an area of the metropolis policed by a squad of hookers led by Gail (Rosario Dawson), who happens
to be Dwight’s former lover. Trouble ensues when it’s learned that Jackie Boy is actually a cop,
threatening a truce between the police and Gail’s gang. There are traitors, a nearly silent woman with
skills in martial arts (Devon Aoki) and lots of violence.
For the last section, the film circles back to Hartigan and the now grown Nancy (Jessica Alba),
who works as an exotic dancer at the club where Shellie is a waitress. Inadvertently, Hartigan leads
the villainous Yellow Bastard (Stahl's pedophile now grossly misshapen by experimental drugs) to
the woman. Of course, the inevitable showdown occurs, but the story here takes an odd, yet
SIN CITY is chockablock with wonderful visuals that recreate the world of Miller’s graphic
novels, but the dialogue often sounds like parodies of the hard-boiled pulp fiction of the 1930s and
40s. Despite my initial interest, I found my attention wandering while watching the movie. At times,
I was bored and disinterested in the characters on screen. What started off as intriguing and
provocative soon devolved into repetitious nonsense. I found myself disengaged from the story and
didn’t care about the fate of any of the characters. In some ways, I suppose it’s a tribute to the movie
makers that their fidelity to the original source material yielded characters that would be more at home
on the page than on screen. But in making a motion picture, that’s a fatal mistake.
MPAA rating: R for sustained strong stylized violence, nudity and sexual content
Running time: 124 mins.
Viewed at the Loews 34th Street Cinema
|© 2005 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.