Noir-Vember Day 23: Sin City (2005) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Noir-Vember Day 23: Sin City (2005)

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It has become a veritable cliché to refer to Frank Miler and Robert Rodriguez’s “Sin City” as neo-noir on steroids, but the moniker seems more apt than any label one could bestow upon the film. The “flick,” as Rodriguez famously refers to his features, cops every hallmark of the noir of yore– for both better and worse.

In the world of Frank Miller’s “Sin City,” all the men are brazen, hard-boiled rogues who deftly wield powerful guns and razor tongues, and the women are either powerful temptresses or prototypical damsels in distress. The villains are crooked cops, corrupt clergy, manic mercenaries, or psychopathic pedophiles, and the “heroes” are often just as violent or corrupt. The difference between the two sides, it seems, is intent and perspective.

The dialogue frequently alternates between gruff or calloused and downright cringe inducing, and the acting toggles between stoic and strikingly ostentatious. The cityscape of “Sin City” is one of beautifully perpetual night, with pouring rain, bleak streetlamps, and swirling police lights providing an overbearingly bleak and ominous background. Throughout the film, inky blacks are punctuated only by stark white contrasts of light and the occasional spot of color to signify a particular character or place; the shadows are long and ominous, the faces are hardened and grizzled, and every inch of the film is coated in an oddly palpable grit. Even when the three yarns woven throughout the film aren’t built upon classic noir tropes, the look and feel is almost always stark enough to make Raymond Chandler proud.

Miller once famously noted that part of his motivation for originally writing and drawing the series was the excuse to draw the things he loved most: beautiful women, classic cars, and men in trench coats.  The film features all of these in spades, sometimes to the point of parody. In The Hard Goodbye, Mickey Rourke’s Marv is out to avenge the death of Goldie (Jaime King), and leaves a trail of dead cops, clergy, and cannibals in his violent wake. The Big, Fat Kill features Clive Owen as Dwight tracking down a misogynistic cop with the help of a cadre of hookers while The Yellow Bastard depicts Bruce Willis as a wrongfully convicted cop hunting down a pedophile in order to protect the chastity (and safety) of Nancy (Jessica Alba).

While each story is interesting in and of itself, Rodriguez and Miller intercut the tales to further provide a twisting narrative more befitting the noir aesthetic. And, just for good measure, there’s multiple instances of genital mutilation heads shoved into filth-riddled toilets, lest the view become confused and mistake this film for something from the 1950s. The stories are almost slavishly committed to Miller’s work– often to the detriment of the film– but the visuals almost compensate for such shortcomings.

The film quite famously used panels from Miller’s graphic novel as rudimentary storyboards, and much of the film’s dialogue appears verbatim from the books. This is both a blessing and a curse for the film. On one hand, Miller’s visual style throughout these graphic novels was a proverbial breath of fresh air when they were originally published. Artistically, the look is both sprawling and bleak, with artful accents of color. Each story has its own aesthetic, but individual yarns are clearly part of a larger whole.

The film’s use of Miller’s dialogue, on the other hand, is sometimes brilliant but often woefully cringe worthy. When read silently in one’s head, Miller’s writing often sounds beautifully hardened and fatalistic, but to the ear, when spoken aloud, the dialogue sounds clunky and, dare I say, cliché to the point of contemptible. Lines such as “she smells like angels oughtta smell,” “I take his weapons… both of them,” or “She shivers in the wind like the last leaf on a dying tree” all hit the ear like tiny shards of glass. And it certainly doesn’t help that the stories themselves are so devoted to Miller that even the most obvious edits for the benefit of story are forsaken on hardened principle. And while Rourke, Benicio Del Toro, and Powers Boothe all possess the theatrical prowess to pull off the ridiculous dialogue and over-the-top violence, Michael Madsen, Jessica Alba, and Josh Hartnett all butcher the screen.

The score is heavy on horns– trumpets and saxophones, mostly– along with piano plinking, strings and occasional moments of distorted guitars, and this provides the perfect accents to Rodriguez’s moody visuals. The shadowy images, blood-riddled carnage, and atmospheric music should be enough to make “Sin City” a neo-noir classic, but the film is often difficult to sit through as a whole. The film may be a technological benchmark for greenscreen filmmaking– and some moments are visually striking and truly beautiful– but “Sin City” fails to resonate emotionally.

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Posted by Andrew

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