April 01, 2005

Frank Miller's Sin City

Directed by Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez Starring Bruce Willis, Clive Owen and Mickey Rourke

Reviewed by Martin Tsai

It was the early 1990s. Sin City changed up the meat and potatoes of Modern-Age comic art. It had expressionist monochrome illustrations, negative-space treatment and hard-boiled yarns. It had hard-luck roughnecks, seamy dames, crooked authority figures and tough cookies who were tougher than nails. It had narrations with exaggerated rat-a-tat riffs on Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. It blew in on an ill wind and shook up the sleepy art form. Seven anthologies came and went. But the whole thing took a dive with tired plots, colour bits and faded novelty. In the end, it became another batch of gonzo pulp channeling Quentin Tarantino.

It was just a matter of time before the inevitable movie treatment. Frank Miller's Sin City seems faithful as a nun, with the black and white and spot colour look and the original panels as storyboards. Miller himself even co-directs and stars in it. Gray doesn't exist in his artwork, and that's tough to replicate. But the film's got some of the surreal, impressionist images straight from the source. You don't find such images on celluloid every day, and it's a shame there aren't more. Still, the movie isn't too much of an improvement on other adaptations associated with Miller such as Daredevil and Elektra. And it still gets a thing or two very wrong.

Sin City has that cool non-linear setup like Pulp Fiction. Tarantino also drops in to shoot a scene. But it gets downright redundant, tight-packing three volumes that were all similar - namely The Hard Goodbye, The Big Fat Kill and That Yellow Bastard. Robert Rodriguez does a juggling act: co-directing, lensing, editing and co-composing. But the man's methods are strictly wrong-side-of-the-tracks. Even with Miller's stark touches, the film whiffs of that namby-pamby superhero aura as phony as Joel Schumacher's take on Batman.

The brooding mood pieces in the novels are a lot like film noir. But the flick's slick, rapid-fire editing is decidedly cartoonish. The original work cites old country ballads - the slow-burn, sappy kind. But an obnoxious electro score makes the movie seem like a parody. And as in a parody, the performances here are often way over the top. The terse dialogue from the books sounds ludicrous when spoken. You get this queasy hunch that Sin City is not much different from Toontown where Roger and Jessica Rabbit live.

Reprinted from WestEnder. © Copyright 2005 Martin Tsai. All rights reserved.