Sin City

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Sin City: A finely crafted piece of garbage.

Apr 8, 2005
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:All technical aspects.

Cons:The (lack of) moral center. Fractured narrative.

The Bottom Line: A gorgeously crafted movie with no moral compass.


With the most appropriate movie title in recent memory, Sin City is likely to be divisive among moviegoers, and more interestingly within a moviegoer. Rarely has such a dichotomy existed between technical prowess and moral & narrative bankruptcy.

Sin City is an anthology of three stories set in the noir-ish, crime-riddled metropolis of Frank Miller's graphic novels (he also co-directed). Each segment has its own storyline with unique characters, although they do transpire simultaneously in the same space, running roughly parallel rather than criss-crossing. This gives the movie a fractured and episodic nature that limits its overall narrative power, inexplicably dragging despite its breakneck action and pace.

Shot by jack-of-all-trades Robert Rodriguez in sumptuous black-and-white, high-definition digital video, the movie was done largely in front of green screen, with flashes of color and cityscapes that are primarily CGI meshing seamlessly with the live action to produce some of the best and most pervasive visual effects ever seen. In the process, the sheer visceral look of the picture entrances, as each shot seems worthy of being frozen and hung on a wall due to the slightly out of kilter comic-book style framing. This careful craftsmanship and attention to detail plunges the audience so deep into an alternative world that it's almost enough to distract from the complete absence of any moral compass. Almost.

As fantastic and jaw-dropping as the visuals are, the principles of Sin City are equally heinous, emphasizing the dark side of the monochromatic world. There are no white-hat heroes, and even the protagonists are villainous. The only remotely good character is Bruce Willis's detective, who would fill the "bad cop" role in most worlds. But his aggressive approach, which is not by the book to say the least, falls on the tame end of the the movie's violent methods spectrum, which combines the bloodiness of Kill Bill with the brutality of The Punisher. I can sometimes accept such actions if the motives are somewhat pure (the relatively justifiable homicides of either aforementioned movie for instance), but such motives here are minimal at best and predominantly non-existent.

Don't get me wrong. I don't necessarily require high morality out of my movies. I'm not demanding the pure motives of Frodo or Atticus Finch, but give me something to latch onto, some semblance of a moral reference point. Someone like Kevin Bacon's flawed but justice-seeking cop in the murky crime drama Mystic River, which was based in a right-and-wrong world even as it portrayed a darker side. Even a sliver of ethics will do, but there is nary a sliver to be found in Sin City. Even people who are "supposed" to be good are likewise black-hearted. Without any sort of orientation, the movie stumbles over itself throughout. I realize that is the nature of the source material; and I accept that, commending Rodriguez and Miller for their cinematic vision, while simultaneously reeling from the depraved soul of the books.

With a cast of familiar names and faces that you can't count using your fingers and toes, the acting of Sin City is...well, it's there. No one except perhaps the disappointing Michael Madsen (who apparently thought he was still on Tilt) detracts from the film, but no one is given much opportunity to supply good work either. Most of the parts are virtually interchangeable, requiring merely an attractive stone face. The casting and appearance are therefore all the more praiseworthy, as image overrides and dwarfs character development. Fortunately the celebrity never distracts from the movie, but rather produces an aura of respectability in what would likely have been regarded as an awful B-grade flick without such star power.

Despite my major ethical issues, I still find myself getting juiced whenever I espy artwork from the film. It looks that good. But I still don't recommend it. The bifurcated Sin City excels in every technical aspect, but the heart is cold, and the story is shattered. Like Snow White's polished apple, it gleams on the outside, concealing a rotten core that ultimately disheartens and disappoints.


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