Sin City [Blu-Ray]
Director : Frank Miller & Robert Rodriguez
Screenplay : Robert Rodriguez (based on the graphic novels by Frank Miller)
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2005
Stars : Jessica Alba (Nancy Callahan), Rosario Dawson (Gail), Elijah Wood (Kevin), Bruce Willis (John Hartigan), Benicio Del Toro (Jack Rafferty), Michael Clarke Duncan (Manute), Carla Gugino (Lucille), Josh Hartnett (The Salesman), Michael Madsen (Bob), Jaime King (Goldie / Wendy), Brittany Murphy (Shellie), Clive Owen (Dwight), Mickey Rourke (Marv), Nick Stahl (Junior / Yellow Bastard), Devon Aoki (Miho), Alexis Bledel (Becky)
Sin City is a brilliant paradox: It looks like nothing you’ve ever seen before, but it’s assembled out of parts so familiar they are clichés. The foreboding darkness and jagged shadows of film noir, the indestructible hero of comic books, the corrupt police officers and vicious criminals from hard-boiled pulp fiction, the gruesomeness of horror movies--we’ve seen it all before in numerous guises and configurations.
Yet, in hands of codirectors Robert Rodriguez (Grindhouse) and Frank Miller, the comic book virtuoso whose graphic novel series the film is based on, Sin City becomes much more than its component parts. Rodriguez and Miller are alchemists of the first order (or Frankensteins), turning the gnawed-on bones of pop culture’s underbelly into an utterly unique, visually gorgeous, and emotionally exhausting masterpiece. It’s a film that turns you into a masochist, brutalizing you for two hours and leaving you wanting more.
Sin City is the appropriately shortened name of Basin City, the seedy, fictional metropolis in which the film takes place. Three of the stories from Miller’s graphic novel series have been interlocked with only minimal overlap into one long, relentless narrative. This results in a trio of male protagonists from every rung of the moral spectrum, with their one connecting tissue being their mission to save (or avenge) a woman.
Near the top is John Hartigan (Bruce Willis), a grizzled, about-to-retire police detective with a bum ticker who saves an 11-year-old girl from the ravages of a pedophilic monster (Nick Stahl) who is always protected because he’s the son of a powerful senator. John is framed and spends the next eight years in jail, while the little girl writes him a letter every week and grows up to be Jessica Alba.
Somewhere in the middle of the spectrum is Marv, a hulking thug played by Mickey Rourke in a truly great performance. Marv’s story is one of vengeance, as he tracks down the cannibalistic serial killer (Elijah Wood) who murdered a prostitute named Blondie (Jamie King). Marv is the film’s most complex and therefore emotionally resounding character. He is pure comic book on the outside, from his exaggerated tough-guy mug (built up with prosthetic effects), to his seeming indestructibility (the cost of getting mowed down with a machine gun is some time in a hospital). However, Marv is the film’s heart because his rugged, arguably repulsive exterior harbors a noble and highly idealized romanticism. Of course, said romanticism never verges into the sappy or sentimental because Marv is, in the end, a brutal criminal and his mission of justice is to exact grisly revenge for the murder of a prostitute he knew for one night. Yet, the film makes clear that Marv’s violence is a form of tenderness, the only kind he can display.
The third story involves Dwight (Clive Owen), a more sophisticated thug than Marv, but one no less dangerous. He gets caught up in the realm of “Old Town,” which is run by a group of prostitutes led by Gail (Rosario Dawson). The prostitutes have struck a deal with the police that enables them to work the streets on their own terms, but that deal is put in jeopardy with the death of a punk named Jack Rafferty (Benicio Del Toro) who hides an important secret. This brings down the wrath of a mob boss (Michael Clarke Duncan) who has been itching to get back into the action and reclaim Old Town for himself. Dwight is the would-be hero here, but the film reverses the genre’s typical notion of men saving women by showing that the women are fully in charge and thus are hardly in need of rescuing.
The stories themselves, which are brought to life almost verbatim from the comic book page, are nothing extraordinary. They all trade in the well-worn path that marks the fine line between crime and justice, and they utilize familiar character types. However, that doesn’t make them any less effective. After all, the reason these narrative traits and character types have lasted so long is because they speak to certain fundamentals. They embody ideas and feelings and moral dilemmas and fantasies that audiences can relate to, even as they are exaggerated beyond reasonable proportions.
Where Sin City really breaks through, though, is in its visuals. Shot almost entirely against green screens with the backgrounds later added digitally, Sin City is an astounding visual feast. Miller’s graphic novels are true black and white, with no shades of gray, and Rodriguez matches that tone seamlessly in the film. Sin City looks different from all other black-and-white films because there is little or no midrange; it is, like the comic, literally black and white. This gives the image a contrasty sharpness that is visually striking, but also thematically adept. Like the stories, the images are both brutal and beautiful. The carefully controlled use of color throughout the film--the harsh redness of blood, a sudden flare of green in someone’s eyes, the orange of an explosion, the yellow of a twisted character’s skin--is perfectly realized, adding to the film’s visual and emotional resonance.
Of course, there is nothing subtle about Sin City, which is often (mis)used as one of the chief criteria of great art. Everything about it is oversized and adrenalized, from the heavy reliance on voice-over narration that is rendered in near-parodic staccato tough-guy speak, to the relentless and brutal violence that would be downright sickening if it weren’t handled in such a highly stylized fashion and downplayed with just the right amount of black humor. The film’s fundamental thematic contradiction--the clash between cynicism and hope--is right in line with its satirical jabs at authority and government, which are portrayed as the corrupt backbone of all the visible crime that plagues the city’s dark streets. There is an irony about the criminals themselves, as well, because many of them would be outright heroes in a better world (about Marv, Dwight muses that he was simply born in the wrong century).
Despite the glimmers of hope, the overriding atmosphere of Sin City is one of despair--the kind of heightened, tragic grandiloquence that elevated Shakespeare’s plays from mere stories about doomed lovers, tragic princes, and misguided kings into bold statements about the human condition. In its own twisted way, Sin City is much like that, as its stories about thugs and cops and hookers and mob goons transcend the simplicities we normally associate with them. It’s something with which you’re immediately and intimately familiar, yet something you’ve never seen before.
|Sin City Two-Disc Blu-Ray Set|
|This two-disc set includes both the original theatrical version of the film and a recut, extended, and unrated version.|
|Distributor||Dimension Home Video|
|Release Date||April 21, 2009|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|I don’t think it will come as much of a shock when I say that Sin City looks absolutely phenomenal in 1080p high definition. The previously available DVD set was already impressive, but moving the film into the realm of high-def really brings out the details and textures of its unique visual approach. The image’s sharpness and clarity renders the high-contrast black-and-white imagery beautifully, and the splashes of color (mostly red and yellow) have a vibrant intensity. The image has fantastic detail, and despite being mostly digital, it doesn’t look that way, but rather has a strong filmlike feel. The English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround is quite impressive as well, effectively immersing your in the seedy sounds of the film’s environs, whether it be rain on the streets or the raucous background noise of a strip club.|
|While the majority of the supplements on this two-disc Blu-Ray set are direct ports from the previously available DVD set, there are a few worthy additions. The biggest of these is the “Cine-Explore” interactive visual commentary, which takes the already engrossing audio commentary by directors Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller (which is also available separately) and marries it with an impressive interactive display of original comic book panels and unadorned green-screen footage to emphasize the film’s source material and its complex production process. On the first disc we also have the previously available audio commentary by director Robert Rodriguez and special guest director Quentin Tarantino, who are also joined later by star Bruce Willis. Finally, the first disc includes a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround option in which you can watch the film with a recording of the audience reaction at the film’s premier in Austin, Texas (which, ahem, I was in attendance). |
The only new supplement on the second disc, which also includes a recut and extended version of the film that breaks it up into four stand-alone stories, is “Kill ’em Good,” which takes Frank Miller’s original graphic novel illustrations and animates them, as well as offers viewer interactivity at various points (for example, controlling Marv’s car as he races away from the police). Otherwise, all the supplements, most of which are fearturettes, have been carried over from the DVD.
“How It Went Down: Convincing Frank Miller to Make the Film” (6 min.) includes interviews with Rodriguez, Miller, Tarantino, and numerous members of the cast discussing how Miller was eventually persuaded to allow his graphic novels to be adapted to the screen. “Special Guest Director: Quentin Tarantino” (7 min.) explores the Pulp Fiction auteur’s contribution to the film. “A Hard Top With a Decent Engine: The Cars of Sin City” (8 min.) looks at the film’s classic cars, while “Booze, Broads, and Guns: The Props of Sin City” (11 min.) includes interviews with the various prop masters and explores how they went about replicating exactly the props (especially guns and knives) that Miller drew on the page. “Making the Monsters: Special Effects Make-Up” (9 min.) consists primarily of an interview with FX whiz Greg Nicotero about the make-up effects he created for Marv and the Yellow Bastard, while “Trench Coats & Fish Nets: The Costumes of Sin City” (8 min.) focuses on costume supervisor Nina Proctor and the unique challenges she faced in rendering Miller’s drawings of scanty outfits and heavy trench coats into reality.
After those featurettes is a section titled “Rodriguez Special Features” that contains five more featurettes that run almost an hour total. “15-Minute Flic School” is a quick, down-and-dirty summary of the film’s challenges; “All Green Screen Version” allows you to watch the entire film as originally shot on green-screen soundstages without any digital accoutrement (sped up so that the whole film whizzes by in 10 minutes);“The Long Take” is essentially an unedited, 14-minute chunk of footage that gives a rare, unadorned glimpse into what happens between takes; “Sin City: Live in Concert” consists of footage Rodriguez and his crew shot of Bruce Willis and his band The Accelerators playing their song “Devil Woman” at Austin’s legendary music club Antone’s; and “10-Minute Cooking School” shows us how Rodriguez makes breakfast tacos. Lastly, the disc includes the original theatrical and teaser trailers.
Copyright ©2009 James Kendrick
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