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Sin City (2005)

Hardly Boiled

That familiar feeling pours into my gut. A warm front of nostalgia tangles with the ice-cold perspective of adulthood, and all I can feel is embarrassment while I watch Sin City for the first time in half a decade.

You're a cruel mistress, ain'tcha? As a graphic novel, you blew my teenage mind wide open, surer than a .57 Magnum to the eyeball. Hell, even when Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez showed up at Comic Con that time, parading their impossibly gorgeous eye candy on-stage to show footage from their upcoming masterpiece--no one in that room could contain themselves. It was a grand, a geek madhouse if there ever was one.

But now, look at you. Nine years later, being watched by what some might call a "wiser" old man. A man who's seen things. Done things. Who writes about movies as a calling. Look at you. What a mess you are.

Yeah, you're still pretty to look at. Even now, it's hard to believe all the swirling cityscapes, car chases, and seedy locations are all just expensive bedazzlements--a bag of CGI tricks lined with green cloth. Every once in awhile, I see catch a glimpse of the sexless sound stage behind your skirt. Mostly, though, I'm lost in your weird reality. You breathe, and you take my breath away. Mostly.

Then you talk. Goddamn you, you talk. And all I can hear is actors play-tending 'cause they're in a "comic-book movie". Michael Madsen should be damned to hell of my choosing for his first-read-through line delivery. And don't get me started on Jessica Alba. Yeah, she's iconic here, a 4-D mirage of glistening, gyrating sexual energy with that lasso and those chaps. But her mouth opens, and my groin falls victim to one of those goddamned Internet ice-bucket challenges.

Your voice-over narration makes me want to cut out every tongue in America. Miller's writing kinda works on the page, but on the road to utterance becomes more Mickey Mouse than Mickey Spillane. It's infectious. I gotta give it that. Like the first cough in a sickness-bound city. My city.

See what I mean?

Thank God for Mickey Rourke and Powers Boothe. They make characters while everyone else draws cartoons. Rourke's Marv is a towering, vengeance-minded lug with a big heart and a pea brain. In the comics, he's even flatter than Miller's grayscale-free aesthetics. But on film, the actor gives him dimension, a sadness bordering on bloody grace.

Boothe slimes it up real good as a crooked senator (coincidentally named Roark). He almost proves that Miller's sophomoric, hard-boiled writing can work in the real world--but he doesn't stick around long enough to make a case either way. A damn shame.

Like the best lovers, you try to push me away. You tell the same story over and over and over, daring me to call your bluff after the first thirty minutes:

1. Noble, yet flawed guy meets vulnerable and impossibly attractive girl.

2. Girl runs afoul of gangsters/bad cops.

3. Guy goes on a bloody rampage to defend/avenge girl.

4. Guy winds up dead and/or narrating from behind dead eyes.

5. Rinse.

6. Repeat.

You tell your story. Then you tell it again. By the third time arterial spray is Steadman-ed across the screen, it takes everything in me not to tell you to shut up and show some more leg. I focus instead on the little things. Like that sexy, sax-heavy score. Or the way Rosario Dawson makes Clive Owen look like the tree in a grade-school play. My jaw drops when I notice Nick Offerman in a bleach-blonde cameo as a thug. Picking it up off the floor, Benicio Del Toro's turn as a mumble-mouthed cop scurries back to its hiding place under his resume.

I start to lay into Brittany Murphy, and you stop me just short of libeling the dead.

We used to be in love, Sin City. I stood up for you once as a visual revolutionary--which you surely were. Still are, in lotsa ways. But I see now a hurriedness that your comics counterpart wouldn't have stood for.

Your characters speak and move so unnaturally, so hell-bent on capturing key frames from the page that everything else is either sped way up or slowed way the hell down. You're a pretty collection of overly articulated action figures--puppeteered by a punk who filters tough-guy dialogue through the kid-brain of someone who's never kissed a girl. Never been in a fight.

You're a mixed-up directionless broad, alright. But I'm the crazy one for giving you a second chance. And a third. I still respect you, old girl. But our love bled out long ago, poisoning the neon strets of this cold, broken city. My city.

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