Sin City (2005)
In a city of complete and utter corruption, a few low-down characters fight to maintain their sensitivity, their scarred romanticism, and some semblance of a sense of true justice. Loyalty is something bought and sold, love is a tool for manipulating others, greed is the air you breathe, and power is achieved only through deception. The only possible form of justice in Sin City is personal justice. Sound familiar?
Based directly on the Sin City comic books by Frank Miller, and directed by Miller and Robert Rodriguez, Sin City is a comic book film. Although it is not purely film noir, it borrows many elements from crime films of the Forties and Fifties, as well as the work of Raymond Chandler and Ross McDonald.
There are several aspects of Sin City that film noir buffs will cherish. All of the individual stories in Sin City come straight out of the film noir canon. Marv, a hardened low-life with a soft spot for dames, dedicates himself to avenging the death of the only woman who ever showed any kindness and tenderness toward him, even after he finds out she was a hooker… Hartigan, one of the few cops in Sin City that possess a conscience, is on the brink of retirement when he receives a tip that the Senator’s son has just kidnapped another 12-year-old girl… A waitress is harassed by an abusive ex-boyfriend, and her new boyfriend swears to “take care” of the pest for her.
Aesthetically, Sin City both adheres to and deviates from the film noir tradition. For example, the visual hallmark of film noir is a stark contrast between the darks and the lights. Sin City stays true to this dramatic chiaroscuro. There are very few grays between the blacks and whites, reminiscent of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. However, unlike German expressionism and film noir, the digitized images in Sin City are so clear, the resolution so high, that you are constantly reminded that this is the digital age. It just has a feeling of artifice, which distracts from the “grittiness” of the genre. A caveat is hereby given to the aficionados of the Silver Screen.
A major deviation from traditional film noir is the film’s editing. Sin City’s editing conforms to the present-day style, which resembles the fast pace seen in music videos. Sometimes there are several cuts within what could be a single shot (during a character’s monologue, for example). Fans of traditional film noir will probably miss the longer takes, and feel that the rapid cutting is often disorienting and distracts from the story. You may yearn for the 10-second close ups on the characters’ faces, introspective and wistful, staring out at the world, bewildered by its chaos and corruption, perhaps disturbed by their own role in it.
There are a couple major characteristics of the film that reminds you that it is, at heart, a comic book. One, it has all the fantastic action and extreme violence that is the standard of the testosterone-driven pulp art. When Marv is pursued by cops, he jumps through the windshield, knocks out the officers, and tosses them out of the vehicle like they were Sunday morning papers being delivered.
Aside from the over-the-top action, there is a strong, albeit usually subtle, degree of camp humor saturating the entire film. This is probably done because the film was made for people who are uncomfortable watching the movies their grandparents enjoyed. Today’s audiences feel alienated by the absence of vulgarity in older films like the original Scarface, or Double Indemnity. Jokes and innuendos that are comparatively innocent by today’s standards actually make some people more uncomfortable than do the generic curse words. Unfortunately, this is also the case with some of the actors and actresses in Sin City. They clearly have difficulty saying these archaic epithets (“son-of-a-bitch,” “bastard,” “dames,” and “broads”) in a simple, straightforward manner. And there’s also the obvious fact that pretty boy Josh Hartnett simply can’t light a woman’s cigarette with the same balance of authority and tenderness that Bogart could.
It makes sense that when the spirit of film noir reappears in today’s film industry, it comes to us through the filter of the comic book aesthetic. Despite the aforementioned “un-noir” features, the Satanic flames are kept burning in this 21st century urban jungle tale. Every major character is an anti-hero. The good guys are bad, and bad guys are good. And there is plenty of politically incorrect humor to be enjoyed by those who dodge society’s stifling mores. Oh, and did I mention there are several great ass shots?
[- Miles Jacobsen]