03 April 2005

Review: Frank Miller's Sin City (Movie)


In a word....hardly. In two words, not really; but in any case it's a movie that should be seen. In fact you can use just about any cliché in the book to describe Frank Miller's Sin City and be dead-on. It's a jaw-dropping, eye-popping, action-packed, must-see crime drama that's very well-acted. It's also a campy, over-dramatized, mechanically flawed film that tries to be too true to its roots. It's one big contradiction, and so is this spoiler-free review.

Sin City is not a traditional movie adaptation of Frank Miller's Sin City Graphic Novels, it's a direct translation from the page to screen, and where the mechanical flaws come in. Watching the movie is like watching an animated storyboard. All that was missing was a white border around every shot to emphasize this. The technique was perfectly executed by co-directors Miller and Robert Rodriguez, but it's also the biggest drawback of the film. Throughout Sin City there is a lack of cohesion from scene to scene. By limiting itself to a direct panel to panel translation, it effectively eliminates the conventions of filmmaking that enable a smooth flow and cohesion between scenes that comics don't. It's also full of voice-overs, the inner thoughts of the character being expressed to the audience. While a standard convention of comics, getting to peek inside the mind of the character, on the screen, it comes across as awkward and silly.

It's pretty clear after watching the film that, what works in comic books, doesn't necessarily work on the screen. Why should it, though? They're two drastically different mediums that have their own respective strengths and weaknesses. Kudos to Miller and Rodriguez for trying, successfully stretching the boundaries of cinema beyond the traditional and into the unknown, but it just doesn't add up.

Putting the whole panel to screen translation aside, the style of the film is very cool. Shot digitally, with the actors working in front of green screens, the visuals are top-notch. Virtually no sets were used in the making of the film. Presented in black and white with occasional use of color to accent certain moments, the look is phenomenal. Miller and Rodriguez should be applauded for pulling this off. I had the pleasure of watching the film in a digital projection theater, and it made it really come alive. Certain scenes jumped right at you as if it was leaping from the screen into the real world. I'm looking forward to the DVD so I can pause the screen and compare the images to the graphic novels. Sin City is a combination film noir crime drama and revenge flick, with a heavy dose of over the top action and gore. Many films try to create an atmosphere that sets a tone for the film, and many fail in their attempts. Sin City hits it out of the ballpark, bleeding attitude and style, and making you believe you are actually in Sin City.

The acting, however, is all over the map. The only solid, consistent performance comes from Bruce Willis, who plays the tough as nails cop, John Hartigan. Every other actor who gets significant screen time suffers from a lack of consistency. There are a number of great scenes where you begin to care for a character, then a few minutes later the performance goes so far over the top, you lose any attachment whatsoever. Mickey Rourke's depiction of the tormented Marv is a shining example of this. This may be what the filmmakers wanted - their vision, their style - but in the end, it weakens the movie.

Sin City is best described as an experiential film. If you're expecting a film adaptation of Miller's acclaimed series, you'll be disappointed, but I'm sure you'll be captivated by the comic book film playing before you. All my criticisms aside, I believe what Miller and Rodriguez have accomplished is remarkable and will go down in cinema history. It is definitely a must-see for comic book geeks and over the top action fans. Everyone else may want to think twice, but keep an open mind.

Frank Miller's Sin City gets 7 out of 10. How's that for a review full of contradictions?

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