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Saturday, April 02, 2005  

They Just Don't Get It, Or I Never Will
Let me start out by saying Sin City was all that I hoped it would be. Miller and Rodriguez adapted a previously inadaptable graphic novel and broke new cinematic ground while doing it. They didn't pull any punches and they make no apologies for the bloody, dirty, sacrilegious, misogynistic, and utterly morally bankrupt tale(s). Let me also say that I feel I can in no way offer-up an unbiased review of this film. I'm a HUGE fan of the source material; i own every graphic novel, toys, tee shirts, and even a Sin City zippo lighter. The books have long been on my list (right between Transmet and Hellboy) of the comics that I most want to see (and never thought I WOULD see) adapted into film. So last night as I set in the theater filled with middle-aged Hollywood society I was giddy with anticipation and delight as the first panels washed over me. And that's what it was: actual pages from the comics reproduced as moving images. Not like Spiderman or (more-so Hellboy) where certain images on screen would perfectly mirror a panel from the comic, but EVERY FRAME of film on screen was DIRECTLY related to a page of the comics. And this is the first point of contention building among the reviews/critics/fanboys: does the accuracy and faithfulness of the adaptation detract from its artistic value? In this case, I don't feel that it does; I think it is the faithfulness that is the point of the film. But many of the critics’ barbs towards the film have been this unflinching representation of the exceptionally graphic source material. Other criticism leveled at the film have similarly centered on the source especially the heavy "hard boiled" and Film Noir style. The charm of the books is partially the way Miller takes conventions from Film Noir, tropes that have been made trite and clichéd by countless repetitions in Hollywood film, and magnifies them to create a highly-stylized and grossly over-exaggerated story. With the film we see these elements exaggerated yet again; the resulting hyper-hyper-reality seems wholly new to cinema and is perhaps the greatest strength of the film. So when critics deride the dialog or the graphic violence I can't help but think they missed the point of the film.
But disagreement with reviewers aside, the film was stunning. Visually there isn't another film like it. For better or worse, nothing like this has even been seen by the American movie-going public. It is perhaps the first HD feature to take full advantage of the new medium, and not just be a film shot on HD. Unfortunately the state-of-the-art in cinematography is still ahead of the acting craft, and this is where one of the films biggest flaws lay. The performances in the film are uneven. Not bad, not stiff, certainly not as plastic as those in Sky Captain, but just uneven enough to be noticed. Each actor dealt with the challenges of performing in a green-screen world differently. Perhaps Rodriguez is uncomfortable directing women (especially when the actresses are playing such blatant caricatures of adolescent fantasy) but he extracted three fantastic performances from his male leads and many uneven and sometimes shaky performances from the ladies of Sin City. Rosario Dawson seems very stiff in her first scene, but by her big finally has clearly warmed up to the new environment. Alexis Bledel is uneven shot-to-shot: sometimes nailing the coy seductress perfectly and sometimes slightly ill-at-ease with her dialog.. Del Toro and Clive Owen's (Tarantino directed) scene together is another highlight of the film, and Bruce Willis settled into the role of crusty retired detective Hartigan like he was putting on his favorite jeans. The man has made a career of playing the characters that Miller based Hartigan on and it is cool to see him play with such a familiar archetype.
But, of course, the star of Sin City is Marv, the huge ugly lug who's image has become synonymous with not only the whole of the Sin City canon, but non-superhero comics in general. And Mickey "I thought he was dead" Rourke delivers the stand-out, and stand-up-and-cheer, performance of the film. Not since Ron Perleman donned the red-right-hand of Hellboy have we seen such a perfect, dead-on-balls-accurate casting choice in a comic adaptation. Marv has seen a thousand bar fights and killed countless men, drank countless beers, and fallen in love only once and Rourke, like a master thespian, uses his troubled past to create the character. He digs down deep into his guts and pulls out fat chunks of gristle, slick with blood and bile, to paint his Marv. And he OWNS Marv. It is an exhilarating joy to watch such a difficult character (he's a psychopathic monster that you can't help but love) come to life in a way I never could have expected.
In my (admittedly fanboy) eyes Sin City succeeded on every count. As a film it is taut, visceral, and entraining and it effected me the way that Pulp Fiction or The Matrix or Fellowship of the Ring effected me. As an adaptation of a classic and important piece of sequential-art-history it is synaesthetic, and akin to two hours of Deja Vu for those familiar with the source. As a proof-of-concept for HD production workflow it blows doors wide open and sets the scene for even more innovations by the next crop of super-star filmmakers. I belive we'll look back in 20 years and see Sin City as the harbinger of the digital age of cinema. It reminded me of why I fell in love with film as an art form in the first place. Film cannot grow old and stale and boring. Film is tied to technology in a way that no other art is, and that means there will always be Lumieres and Hitchcocks and Renoirs and Kurosawas and Spielbergs and Jacksons to blow the lids off of the status quo. The times they are a-changing and the writing is on the back-lot wall now: film is dead, long live filmmaking.

posted by JMV | 4/02/2005 01:18:00 PM
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