Michael Wood reviews Sin City
Sin City is an adaptation of a popular comic book series by Frank Miller. Directed by Miller and Robert Rodriguez, with one scene directed by Quentin Tarantino, the film takes three of the comic’s storylines, each a story of rough justice and revenge set in the hellhole that is Basin City. Like the comics, the film is shockingly violent from start to finish.
Comic book films are the latest Hollywood craze but it’s surprising that it’s taken the executives so long to get to Miller, as he produces some of the most critically acclaimed and popular comics going and is credited with having revitalised the medium in the 80s.
The body count in this film rivals that of a Paul Verhoeven sci-fi film, and the deaths are all disturbingly inventive. The violence goes beyond the point of being merely gratuitous towards being almost ritualistically unpleasant. Yet the film is still worth watching.
Sin City is completely stylised, in every way. The world these people inhabit is quite literally black and white. All the men are gigantic and heavily muscled; all the women have long legs, huge breasts, and very little clothing.
It’s not just the appearance of Sin City that makes it an unreal, stylised and caricatured world. The morality of the three stories is completely overblown and exaggerated. Each of them is about some kind of justice being done, but always in a horrendously brutal fashion.
The people of Sin City cannot rely on the established law, so they serve up their own, often gruesome, variety of it. All figures of authority in Sin City are corrupt. The villains of each of these stories are, respectively, the political dynasty of Sin City, the Church, the police, and the Mafia.
Miller is famous for lampooning every opinion. Sometimes this just does not work. The level of detachment that is required is just too great. The letters columns of his comic are often filled with fans stating how much they sympathise with characters who are not supposed to be sympathetic – like Marv, a borderline psychotic.
This is an incredibly faithful transition from book to screen. The benefit of this is that Miller’s genius with characters, dialogue, and imagery, is right up there on the screen. He writes hard boiled monologues that Chandler would be proud of, although Philip Marlowe probably wouldn’t last 10 seconds in this town. However the ambiguity, brutality, and nihilism of it all are also all up there as well, for better and worse.
Miller is a great storyteller, and these are great adaptations of his best stories, but they may not be to all tastes.