The Michigan Daily discovered in April 2005 that several articles written by arts editor Marshall W. Lee did not meet the newspaper’s standard of ethical journalism. Parts of these stories had been plagiarized from other news sources. The article below appears to contain plagiarism, and the Daily no longer stands by its content.
Before you go see “Sin City,” whether you’re a blog-happy fanboy or just a regular Joe enticed by the sleek, staccato action and hyper-stylized violence of the trailer, please take a moment to consider the process of reading a comic. Even with a truly great graphic novel like Frank Miller’s 1991 magnum opus that started the whole “Sin City” franchise, it’s essentially an individual experience, buoyed by art that sizzles and bursts, manipulated and controlled by a reader who can choose to linger and wonder over a single panel or scan through a whole book in a matter of minutes.
Now consider “Sin City,” without a doubt the most fastidiously accurate comic adaptation ever put to film. The movie, helmed by Robert Rodriguez (the “Spy Kids” franchise) with a co-directing credit for Miller, is an almost perfect replica of the ground-breaking comic series — from the black-and-white cinematography punctuated by splashes of color to the digital sets just this side of surreal — and in that sense it is an admirable success. The star-studded cast is an obdurate embodiment of Miller’s hard-boiled, tough-talking characters: amoral P.I.’s, gun-toting vamps, crooked cops and cannibals, all clashing and wheeling on the mean streets and back alleys of Basin City. Every shot has one of Miller’s inky panels as its genesis, and Rodriguez even scatters a few of the original frames around the opening credits, as if the audience needed these points of reference to remind them of just how dead-on and dead-serious his translation aims to be.
The problem, is that accuracy is not the same thing as quality, and while Miller’s gorgeous two-tone graphics pop on the page, the bulk of his imagery goes flat on the screen. Mostly this is a problem of pacing. In ink, Miller’s extreme-contrast style evokes, through subtle suggestion, details well-suited to the contemplative rhythms of reading. The film, however, jerks its way through space and time by way of flashy jump-cuts, Rodriguez’s stylistic signature, and the result is a movie that mostly skims across its story, gleaning only the surface details before rocketing on to the next eye-popping visual.
“Sin City” is divided into three loosely interwoven parts, each adapting a complete story from the comics. “The Hard Goodbye,” without a doubt the strongest and most fully fleshed-out of the three sections, is the tale of Marv (Mickey Rourke), a menacing strong-man seeking revenge for the death of a kindhearted hooker (Jamie King). “The Big Fat Kill” follows fugitive Dwight (Clive Owen), also struggling to protect a dame, this time from a potential mob war. And finally, “That Yellow Bastard,” the story of a world-weary cop (Bruce Willis) who endures the loss of everything he holds dear to protect a young exotic dancer (Jessica Alba) from a senator’s sociopath son (Nick Stahl). Despite the rumbling refrain of the movie’s tag-line (“Walk down the right back alley in Sin City and you can find anything”) smattered about the film, these three stories are essentially the same, each a variation on the violent theme that predominates most of Miller’s work, and on the screen their similarities grow annoyingly repetitive.
This is all the more disheartening for the fact that parts of “Sin City” are truly fantastic. Sadism, brutality and misogynistic overtones aside, “The Hard Goodbye” is an emotive and fully realized gem buoyed by the wonderfully wrought images of Marv and an inspired bit of casting that has Elijah Wood playing a psychopathic, serial-killing cannibal. The problem is that the movie doesn’t know what to do with a story this good, and Rourke’s powerful performance gives Marv a certain gravitas that Rodriguez and company obviously weren’t prepared for. The two other stories have flashes of brilliance scattered about like a splash of blood red paint over a white background, but for all that, “Sin City” is never as deep, as thrilling, or even as cool as it wants us to believe.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars