Sin City

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The plot in a nutshell
This film is based on the popular series of graphic novels by Frank Miller of the same name.  Three separate but intertwined stories revolve around Basin City, or as most of the residents call it, Sin City.  There's the story of Hartigan (Bruce Willis) and his destiny with the young Nancy Callahan, a girl he saves from an awful demise.  Then there's Marv, the giant of a brute, misunderstood by most and with a few mental problems all his own.  He's out for revenge, and by the time he's done, lots of people know that messing with him was the worst mistake they ever made.  Finally, there's Dwight and his ex-girl, Gail, who are on a collision course with some very bad people, but find a way to avert an all out war in the streets.

Directed by Robert Rodriguez, with a 'guest' direction credits for Frank Miller and  Quentin Tarantino, this is a bloody, unique, and visually stunning film.  Ah, but there are a few problems as well....

Relatively Spoiler Free Thoughts
I've heard lots of folks rave about this film, and I have to say I'm quite surprised.  Perhaps it's the unique style that has them blinded - done predominately in black and white, with only the occasional use of color, as both a way to harken back to the feel of film noir and capture the impression of a comic book at the same time.  Perhaps it's the ultra violence, which is in such an exorbitant amount here that it makes the Kill Bill films look like the Sound of Music.  Or perhaps it's just that as fans of the comic, they missed all the flaws of the film.

The film is visually amazing, and does make you feel just like you're watching a comic book.  I know that sentence doesn't exactly make sense, but once you've seen the film you'll know what I mean.  Rodriguez does his own camera work and editing too, so his imprint is all over this film, and he was the right man to capture the look and feel.

There are a few times with the CGI is far too obvious, and it's usually in the calm scenes.  One in particular that was very jarring was the simple drive of Wendy and Marv down the winding road in a convertible.  The long shots were so obviously CGI, and it was the type of scene where CGI is so rarely used, that it reminded me that there still are limitations to the technique.

Still, for the most part, the look and feel of the entire film is stunning.  There will be many comparisons to Kill Bill, since it uses some similar styles, and often parlays the same extreme violence into an almost hypnotic drug.  But there's more to a film than visuals and style, and when it gets to the writing, the comparisons end.

There are two aspects to screen writing that are critical.  First of course is the plot itself, who does what to who, when, how and why.  The twists and turns, the surprises...these are the meat of the film.  Sin City does great once again here, with all three stories being well written and involving, yet never confusion or silly.  There is some time jumps, and while no one story depends on the others, they do intertwine.  Yet, they are never difficult to follow, and there are no gaps or plot holes.  Miller has done a great job making his books translate to the film, at least in terms of plot and story.

There's a second aspect though, one that Kill Bill had down to a science, and one that Sin City fails at miserably.  Dialog.  Some of the dialog in this film is cringingly bad, so horrible that I'm truly amazed that more people didn't laugh out loud.  It's also not simply the dialog, but the execution.  The film tries to be a homage to the era of film noir, but ends up as parody due to the over acting and simply awful work by many of the films biggest stars.

This isn't film noir - it's film noir done by the cast of Saturday Night Live.  The actors try so hard and end up butchering the lines.  It reminded me of an actor who has a hard time with an accent in a film - they end up only doing it about 20% of the time, just on the really obvious words.  Here, certain dialog is delivered with such a Bogart intensity that it ends up a silly imitation.

There are two actors who pull it off - Willis as Hartigan, and Rourke as Marv.  They aren't great by any means, but both are far more watchable than actors like Josh Hartnett or Clive Owen, who gut their lines embarrassingly.  Michael Madsen is truly the worst of the bunch though, and it's a case of bad timing that he gets to deliver some of his worst lines within the early minutes of the film.  It's no surprise that my favorite character in the film is Kevin, played very convincingly by Elijah Wood.  He has no lines, thankfully.

This is a movie that could have been as great as Kill Bill, but missed the mark.  It's visually arresting, yet the awful dialog and it's goofy delivery had me laughing repeatedly at times I was most definitely not supposed to be laughing.  By the end of the film, I cared only about Marv and Hartigan, and that was due to the far better work by both Willis and Rourke.  Willis didn't surprise me, but I've never been a big fan of Rourke, and his work here surprised me.

Rating - Wait for the rental.
If you're a huge fan of the books, I'd go see it at the movies.  The visually intensity will come over much better on the huge screen.  But for the average viewer, this is a movie that will work - or not - just as well on their screen at home. 

Spoiler Laden Thoughts
I won't spoil anything here, but if you have read the books, don't expect too many surprises.

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