Sin City (2005) review

Sin City posterDirectors: Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller

Starring: Mickey Rourke, Clive Owen, Bruce Willis, Benicio Del Toro, Nick Stahl, Jessica Alba, Brittany Murphy

“The wind rises, electric. She’s soft and warm and almost weightless. Her perfume is a sweet promise that brings tears to my eyes. I tell her that everything will be all right. That I’ll save her from whatever she’s scared of and take her far, far away. I tell her I love her. The silencer makes a whisper of the gunshot. I hold her close until she’s gone. I’ll never know what she was running from. I’ll cash her check in the morning.” (The Salesman, Sin City)

I’ve been reading through Frank Miller’s Sin City comics over the past few weeks.

While skimming through the letters pages found in the back of each issue – usually packed with readers moaning about censorship – I spotted an interesting comment from Miller.

One reader asked if it was true that Sin City was being turned into a movie, and Miller made it clear in no uncertain terms that he didn’t want this to happen.

This was pretty much the look on his face when it was suggested to him
This was pretty much the look on his face when it was suggested to him

Fast forward a decade and a half and, sure enough, a Sin City film was released, co-directed by Miller and From Dusk Till Dawn director Robert Rodriguez.

The story goes that Rodriguez was so desperate to make a Sin City movie he shot a rough version of the film’s opening scene before Millar had even agreed to be on board. After Rodriguez showed Miller the scene he had shot, Miller finally agreed that, yes, a movie could indeed do his comic’s unique noir art style justice.

It’s little wonder Miller was impressed: Sin City looks astounding. Presented mainly in stark black-and-white (with very little room for greys), you’ve never seen a film that looks quite like this. But more on that in a bit.

The movie’s plot is actually based on a number of story arcs from the Sin City comics – The Hard Goodbye, The Big Fat Kill and That Yellow Bastard.

There's also a brief prologue based on the short story The Customer Is Always Right
There’s also a brief prologue based on the short story The Customer Is Always Right

In The Hard Goodbye, Mickey Rourke plays Marv, a hulking Desperate Dan figure of a bruiser who awakens after a night with a hooker to find her dead and the cops already headed to his room.

Marv decides to try and find out who killed the recently deceased love of his life, and why they tried to frame him for her murder.

Following this is The Big Fat Kill, starring Clive Owen as Dwight. He’s got himself a new lady but she’s got some baggage in the shape of her ex-lover Jackie Boy (Benicio Del Toro), who’s unwilling to let her go and is, sadly, the violent sort.

After Jackie Boy smacks said lady around a bit, an enraged Dwight decides to follow him to Old Town – where prostitutes rule the streets – and teach him a lesson.

Unfortunately, things don’t go quite as planned, and when it’s revealed that there’s more to Jackie Boy than meets the eye shit starts to go down fairly rapidly.

"Say Gosford Park was shite one more time mate, I dare you"
“Say Gosford Park was shite one more time mate, I dare you”

Finally, That Yellow Bastard tells the tale of a retiring cop called Hartigan (Bruce Willis) and his long-running mission to protect a girl called Nancy from an evil paedophile killer.

To say any more about this one would be spilling the beans a bit, but of the three main stories this is definitely the most grim… and the most visually arresting.

The entire film is a sight to behold, though. Every frame feels like it could be printed out and hung on a wall, and every time colour’s used for effect it’s stunning.

Anyone who’s read the comics will also be amazed at how faithful it is. Many of the more memorable moments are lifted directly from Miller’s panels, from Dwight’s jail cell to the bandages on Marv’s face.

Fun fact: if Sin City was set in London this would be considered a "spacious studio flat" and the rent would be £700 a month
Fun fact: if Sin City had been set in London this would have been considered a “spacious studio flat” and the rent would have been £700 a month

The ensemble cast is also remarkable. The main trio of Rourke, Owen and Willis aside there’s also an incredible number of talented supporting actors.

As well as the aforementioned Del Toro there are also appearances by Jessica Alba, Brittany Murphy, Elijah Wood, Michael Clarke Duncan, Josh Hartnett, Alexis Bledel, Rosario Dawson, Carla Gugino, Rutger Hauer, Jaime King, Michael Madsen, Nick Stahl and even Miller himself as a priest.

Miss out on Sin City and you’re missing out on a film with incredible cinematography, outstanding performances, a cast most studios would kill for and a Frank Miller script that scintillates throughout (“she doesn’t quite chop his head off… she makes a Pez dispenser out of him”).

Sloppy Bob swore he would never eat a boiled egg again before going out on a date
Sloppy Bob swore he would never eat a boiled egg again before going out on a date

If the upcoming sequel Sin City: A Dame To Kill For is half as entertaining as this then it’s going to be a hell of a ride.

A warning, though: Sin City depicts a world in which, as my good friend Alan put it, “all the women are whores or strippers, all the men are real men… which is fine, but Frank Miller believes this a truth.” If this is likely to unsettle you then it might rub you up the wrong way.

Finally – be sure to check out the trailer below, even if you don’t plan on seeing the movie. To this day it’s my favourite trailer ever, partly thanks to the brilliant use of the song ‘Cells’ by The Servant.

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Sin City‘s rating earns it a place in the hallowed That Was A Bit Mental Hall Of Fame. Click here to see which other films have made the grade.

HOW CAN I SEE IT?
Sin City can be found on DVD and Blu-ray. Here’s the UK DVD, the UK Blu-ray, the US DVD and the US Blu-ray.

If you fancy reading through the amazing comics first, my recommendation is Big Damn Sin City, which compiles all seven volumes into one massive book. It’s pricey but it’s definitive.

SHOW ME THE TRAILER:

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