Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Killer Whores and Homicidal Hobbits: Sin City (2005)

In the mood forsome hyperviolent film noir? How about a movie in which the director Robert Rodriguez, so soon after directing the PG Spy Kid series, takes pleasure in reveling in every R-rated detail he includes? Sin City, a film faithfully adapted from the graphic novels of Frank Miller, panders to the jaded sensibilities of movie critics and perpetual adolescents. It takes the 1950s film noir style of Mickey Spillane novels and forms a nocturnal landscape where it usually rains on bleak city streets, various heroes routinely gets punched in the head, and if we’ve seen 15 beating, mauling, and knifing scenes already, Rodriguez will spice up a later one with a nurse looking on who happens to wear a see-through uniform and thigh-high stockings. We have entered into a stylized CGI black and white comic book world where Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction is the Bible, blood is sometimes white, yellow, or red, suffering has no real consequence, and all the young women dress like prostitutes when they bother to wear clothes at all.

I would like to say at the outset that I admire Rodriquez’s uncompromising stance towards his material. I heard that when he couldn’t get union approval for Frank Miller’s co-direction of the film, he dropped out of the union and carried on. Instead of just alluding to Quentin Tarantino’s work, he brought in Quentin himself to direct one of the better scenes involving a talking corpse. Rodriguez doesn’t care one bit for political correctness, being a bad influence on our nation’s youth, or mothers who get angered by their daughters dressing up like Britney Spears. His vision of politics is of complete corruption and massive lies that extends from the church pulpit to the police force. Yet, the movie has a kind of nerdy chivalric code by which Mickey Rourke’s character Marv cheerfully tortures and kills various cops and criminals in the name of avenging the death of one idealized blonde prostitute named Goldie (played by Jaime King). Bruce Willis plays Hartigan, a cop who, in the name of saving 9 year old Nancy Callahan from a pervert, punches out his partner, fights off the advances of a 19 year old stripper played by Jessica Alba, and graphically pulls off the genitalia of a man. He also finds a way to swing back and forth while being hanged in a hotel room so he can catch a sliver a glass between his feet to cut himself loose. The third plot involves Clive Owen playing Dwight, a tough guy in red Converse sneakers, who gets dunked in a tar pit when trying to dispose of the dismembered body of Benicio Del Toro.

If you don’t mind limited characterization, the sick-violent sensibility of video games, and Mickey Rourke’s creepy plastic surgery, there are pleasures to be found in Sin City. I liked the way Rodriguez adapted a crazed Japanese schoolgirl killer from Kill Bill to create Miho, a diminuitive fighting prostitute played by Davon Aoki. Miho likes not only to stab men through the roofs of old Chevys with her samurai sword, but she also throws swastika ninja stars. Elijah Wood’s role as the futuristic psycho-killer Kevin looks a like a deranged grown-up Charlie Brown with cool white shades; the former Frodo likes to cannibalize prostitutes for a midnight snack when not reading the Bible. Bruce Willis carries a cross of scars on his forehead, and if you don’t mind seeing him again (he’s becoming the new Robert DeNiro of over-exposed older stars), he squints well and gives great voiceover.

In sum, Sin City is depraved. It takes pleasure in slaughter, bludgeoning, and dismemberment, and it caters to our short attention spans and lack of respect for human life. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone, but it makes for a fun movie to analyze. As the sultry blonde Jaime King says at one point, “Kill him for me, Marv. Kill him good.”

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