Masterminded by Robert Rodriguez, Sin City is the most definitive filmic adaptation of a graphic novel to date. The movie was adapted from the pages of Frank Miller’s similarly-titled comic book series, resulting in an indisputable masterpiece boasting gorgeously stylised visuals of a noir-esque world inhabited by ruthless characters and governed by violence. Indeed, Sin City is the ultimate proof that “comic book” does not always mean “for children”, as this blood-soaked collection of stories are vile, repugnant and incredibly sadistic. Yet, for those able to stomach this material, Sin City is a blast from beginning to end. Not only this, but the film also serves as a compelling argument in favour of digital moviemaking (kick-started with 2004’s Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow), wherein actors appear within largely computer-generated environments. Due to this, the film sparked an entire new breed of graphic novel adaptations, with the aesthetic being recycled for The Spirit and 300, just to name a couple.
“Sin City” is the appropriately shortened name for Basin City, the seedy metropolis in which the proceedings take place. The narrative packs together three tales from the graphic novel series – The Hard Goodbye, That Yellow Bastard and The Big Fat Kill – into one long narrative with only a minimal amount of overlap, and they are bookended by the short story The Customer Is Always Right. In one story, a hulking thug named Marv (Rourke) spends a night having sex with an angelic woman (King) who’s subsequently murdered right next to him. Framed for the murder and vowing revenge, Marv seeks answers, leading him to a cannibalistic hitman (Wood) who’s part of a larger conspiracy. The next story concerns Dwight (Owen), who goes on the trail of the immoral Jackie Boy (Del Toro) after witnessing him roughing up his girlfriend (Murphy). Dwight finds himself on the side of town run by armed prostitutes who are determined to defend their territory. And finally, aging policeman Hartigan (Willis) spends years in prison after saving young Nancy Callahan (Alba), and upon his eventual release he goes looking for Nancy before realising he has fallen into a trap orchestrated by the very same child molester he stopped years earlier (Stahl).
Brought to life practically verbatim from the pages of Miller’s graphic novel series, the stories are admittedly familiar-feeling and unremarkable, incorporating typical noir tropes and conventional character types. Yet, the execution is incredibly effective in every aspect. No script was written and no storyboards were devised for Sin City – rather, Rodriguez let Miller’s comic books function as the script and storyboards, taking the term “faithful adaptation” to a new and more literal level. As written by Miller, the dialogue and hardboiled noir-esque voiceovers crackle with lyricism and badassery, while the action elements were competently handled by Rodriguez (a veteran action filmmaker). Like the comics, Sin City is not for all tastes – an omnipresent sense of the macabre pervades practically every frame, not to mention there’s a lot of exceedingly brutal violence and seedy underpinnings which will not be comfortably consumed by the easily offended or those with weak stomachs.
Visually and atmospherically, Sin City is a fucking masterpiece. Shot predominantly against green screen in order to seamlessly facilitate digital backgrounds, Rodriguez has meticulously turned Miller’s black and white images into cinematic frames, and his affection for Miller’s work shines through in every one of those frames like a fresh diamond. The visuals are predominantly black and white with small bursts of colour, resulting in a colour palette that’s uniquely fascinating and beautiful. There are plenty of visual nuances to behold here, from the perfect use of shadows to the stunning stark silhouettes of various characters throughout. Topping this off is the immaculate pacing (the film is constantly enthralling and never boring), and a suitably memorable soundtrack. Frequent Rodriguez collaborator Quentin Tarantino is even credited as “guest director” – he directed the scene between Clive Owen and Benicio Del Toro when they have an acting showdown in a car.
Of course, Sin City‘s excellence does not stop with the visuals. The movie’s cast is equally terrific, and constitutes its second greatest strength. Despite the presence of big names, the cast seems like a proper ensemble rather than senseless stunt casting, preventing the film from degenerating into a “spot the celebrity” drinking game. Each and every actor suits their role to the ground, leading to a complete absence of weak spots. The highlight is Mickey Rourke, who was in career-resuscitating mode here. As the ruthless Marv, Rourke is a passionate scene-stealer, and this ranks as the actor’s best work to date. Since Marv’s story is the first to be told in its entirety, he sets the acting bar high, and is thankfully matched by his co-stars. Clive Owen is another highlight, delivering a trademark badass performance as Dwight, while Bruce Willis is extremely strong as the hardened, aging Hartigan. Despite Willis’ Hartigan being a policeman, Willis did not abide by his usual John McClane-esque screen persona – this is something far edgier and darker. It would take all day to address every cast member, but, suffice it to say, they are all sublime.
Rodriguez considered Frank Miller’s literature contributions to the film to be so major that he resigned from the Directors Guild and lost a studio project in order to have Miller be credited as co-director. This is a testament to his dedication in bringing Miller’s visions to the screen in most faithful way possible. With its unique narrative structure, breathtaking visuals and badass noir dialogue, Sin City is an experience like no other. Not only will it please Miller’s die-hard fans, but it will in all likelihood earn him new fans as well. Sin City is simply perfection, and it is difficult to imagine any fans of the graphic novel not being completely satisfied with this exemplary effort, especially with the availability of Rodriguez’s recut & extended edition which presents each story separately in their entirety.