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Movies: Sin City

I like comic book movies, even when I don't particularly care for the comic books they are based on. Hellboy, Blade, The Crow -- even The X-Men is an example of a film I enjoyed way more than the source material.

I've read a couple of the Sin City trade paperbacks, and found them largely uninteresting. The characters, action, and dialogue all seemed lifted from Mickey Spillane novels and back issues of The Punisher. Plus, I'm no fan of Miller's art -- where others see a distinctive style, I see a guy who can't draw a straight line. And if I wanted my story in black & white, I'd just read a novel.

But black & white motion pictures I like. And as I said, I'll go see pretty much any comic book movie, regardless of my opinion of the book. So I caught of late show of Sin City last Friday. Based on the trailer my expectations for the film were moderately high, and they were exceeded by a considerable amount.

Sin City contains three stories which, while distinct, share a few overlapping characters, settings, and elements. They are told in a noir style that's so hyperbolic as to border on parody: all the women are buxom, all the men can take a bullet and shrug it off as a flesh wound, all the villains have a distinct look and a distinct method for dispatching their victims. Bruce Willis stars in the first chapter, and essentially reprises his world-weary tough-guy role from Pulp Fiction and Unbreakable. (That's a good thing -- he's really good at that role*.) His portrayal of a good cop beaten down by the unrelenting corruption of his force sets the stage for all the subsequent tales, each of which features a few of Basin City's rare noble citizens struggling for justice in a town where everyday life is akin to that of a maximum security prison.

Frank Miller is cited as the film's co-director (he's even given top billing over Robert Rodriguez) and his presence is noticeable. The movie has just the right amount of "comic book physics" -- cars go over hills and catch 10 seconds of air, strongmen shatter wooden doors with a single punch -- but still feels tethered, if just barely, to the real world. That the scenes look just like something out of a graphic novel is not my subjective opinion -- check out these side-by-side comparisons of panels from the books and stills from the movie and marvel at the exactitude. It's as if the Sin City graphic novels were the storyboards for the film.

And, in fact, I think that's why I didn't like them. I went back and reread The Big Fat Kill after seeing the movie, and it doesn't seem like a finished product; it seemed like the rough draft for something great. And that something great is now showing at a theater near you.

* So good at this role that I has me thinking the unthinkable: Bruce Willis as Batman in The Dark Knight Returns. Somebody make it quick, before I come to my senses. Posted on April 13, 2005 to Movies


I keep thinking about the graphics and how amazing they were. But (sigh) another movie hard for me to watch now that I'm a mommy. I'm such a wimp! The violence upset me incredibly. It just rattled me for days. The darkness of it. The yellow guy. All the evil people. I can't watch movies with evil people in them anymore! Help. Every Disney movie even has some evil people in it.

What did the Queen think?

I did like the middle episode with the gun toting prostitutes though. So vigilante justice is OK, I guess, but maybe only if it's women killing bad guys. Apparently I can handle that.

Posted by: Miel on April 14, 2005 10:34 PM

Unlike you, Iím a huge fan of Frank Millerís Sin City. I couldnít have been more excited about the movie, especially considering the care that was taken to be true to the source material. So, it was all the more disappointing when I actually saw the movie.

I think the black & white format bothered me the most. Millerís characters exist on the page in stark black and whiteÖ for anyone not familiar with the comics, Iím not exaggerating, itís literally black ink on white paper. But, black and white in the movies doesnít mean the same thing as in comicsÖ B&W movies are mostly mid-tone shades of gray, so compared to the crisp, stark look of the comics, the movie just looked muddy to me. I enjoyed the occasional use of color, I think the yellow of That Yellow Bastard was especially well done. But, the color in general was over-done, in my opinion. Flashes of color appear throughout, sometimes without reason, it seemed. Instead of highlighting a scene, I just found them districting.

And, after an hour, the relentless tough-guy violence started to wear on me. Iím not anti-violence by any stretch, but I just found myself longing for some character development Ė which, admittedly, isnít Millerís strong suit. Personally, I would have preferred to see Marvís story by itself. I think that tale had the most heart, and I found it the most satisfying. And Mickey Rourke IS Marv. Amazing make-up, amazing performance.

But, itís possible that, as a buddy told me, I just need to relax and enjoy the show.

Posted by: craig on April 15, 2005 6:39 AM

I loved this movie and I am a mom too! My kids are older tho(ages 15 and 22) and they made me go see it with them. I kept saying ~I won't like this, I don't even like comic books! Instead I came out of the theatre having been mesmerized by the NOIR-ness of it and loved the splotches of color added to the black and white. After the movie, we went to the bookstore and looked at the comic books (grapic novels actually) and it was amazing that they followed the books so to the letter (as Matt pointed out with his side by side movie/book page link). I have probably been totally desensitized by watching all the "guy" flicks have 2 teenage sons in the house the last few years....(I must admit to cringing a few times and hoping a scene would end)......ah well....strange what kids can do for you, isn't it? In this case, I am hoping that my children/young adults are keeping ME on the young side! =)

Posted by: MsCrabtree on April 15, 2005 6:42 AM

I don't like comic books and *I have not seen a single comic book movie* and my friends and I went the theater to see something else and they dragged me to this. I was harrumphing the entire way.

Needless to say I was 100% enthralled and totally blown away by this awesome piece of cinema. Hurrah

Posted by: Michelle on April 15, 2005 6:49 AM

You're Bruce Willis as Batman idea is so fantastically bad it's wonderful. I would watch that Batman, and I've been sworn off since the one with Jim Carrey in it.

I wanna see Sin City, but I'm afraid that Hitchhiker's has won the prize as the One Movie Per Year I Manage to See in a Theatre, now that the LOTR cycle is done.

Posted by: holley on April 15, 2005 7:26 AM

Um, that storyboard comparison link is not safe for work. You might want to mark it as such...

Posted by: Andrew on April 15, 2005 8:11 AM

The movie was visually AMAZING, and stylized according to the comic's original intention. So, I think it achieved most of what it set out to accomplish, but I have to say that I found it pretty lame. Long ago I got tired of comic books using violence to make the comic seem "edgy", and now I'm really tired of movies where violence is used to create a strong reaction in the audience.

The Message that I wish I could give to comic/movie writers/directors: If you want a strong reaction from me or want an edgy piece, use some plot or character development people!

Plus: I got really tired of the roles women always received in the movie/comic, i.e. hardcore prostitute/stripper or innocent victim of sexual/violent abuse. Mind you, as an ex-comic geek I'm fully aware that comics in general have a strong misogynist tendency. My theory is that it's because a large proportion of comic readers are about as familiar with real women as they are with personal hygiene. I mean that in the nicest way possible...

Posted by: Blake Richards on April 15, 2005 9:50 AM

I think that if we don't work in the comic book or movie industry, we all understand that pictures of comic books and movie scenes are not safe for work, yeah?

Posted by: Anonymous on April 15, 2005 5:48 PM

hey CRAIG: the biggest problem with b/w movies nowadays is the fact that no one knows how to light them. Television wiped out that ability, methinks, since we are all so used to seeing everything uniformly lit and washed out.

My favorite "desert island" movie is "The Third Man" with Orson Welles. A film noir extravaganza for the eyes.

I used to know a filmmaker pretty well who told me a lot of b/w film nowadays isn't even shot on b/w stock...its shot on color and then in the processing, desaturated. Just like that goofy tool in Photoshop.

Posted by: coskel on April 16, 2005 5:39 AM

That idea of Bruce Willis in "The Dark Knight Returns" is brilliant. You have to try to get that to someone who could make it happen. Who would you cast for Superman?

I really liked 'Sin City' although I had planned not to. I was just blown away by Mickey Rourke's transformation!

Posted by: Mark on April 16, 2005 11:46 AM

I'm not a mom. I loved the style of 'Sin City', though I have not read the comic books. I was entirely squicked out by the violence. I wish I could have liked it just for the layout and the visual effects and some incredible acting, but Elijah Wood's character gave me nightmares and That Yellow Guy made me queasy. I'd love to see the trailer again, but not the movie.

Posted by: Trope on April 16, 2005 1:34 PM


Sin City was brilliant, as I am far from the first to say, but it also nearly made me vomit. I haven't read a single review yet that made note of the intense squick factor, which blows my mind. How could this thing not be rated NC-17? The level of violence is so intense that it transcends anything I've seen before, even "Dead Alive", which I always thought would be the final word in gore.

I'm not puritanical, I swear. There are a lot of violent movies I love: The Silence of the Lambs, The Terminator, Magic, The Wild Bunch, on and on and on. But Sin City, brilliant as it is, disgusts me on a visceral level. I just kept asking myself: why why why why why why why is any of this necessary? What is the point? So much time and effort went into the creation of this cesspool, and everyone in the theater around me is sucking down raw sewage with hysterical glee, and I'm in the middle of it all about to lose my lunch. I don't want to know that Elijah Wood cut off Carla Gugino's hand and made her watch while he ate it. I don't want to have that in my brain! Why would anyone want that in their brain?

I liked the naked and nearly-naked women. That was enjoyable. I wish there had been more of them. I get the point of watching sexy women move. I don't get the point of sitting through two hours of dismemberment, cannibalism, and sadism for no discernable reason. Of all the possible forms of artistic expression, of all the infinite ways you could choose to spend your time before you die -- that anyone would consciously choose this movie instead of something, ANYTHING else, makes me feel sick and sad.

And it's a brilliant movie. God help me, it's brilliant.

Posted by: Yosha Bourgea on April 17, 2005 7:17 PM

Love your blog, but I was disappointed by your flaming of Frank Miller's talent. You and everyone are entitled to their opinions and honestly I respect that even if I can't agree with it.
You yourself say youre not a fan of comics. Nuff said. Miller cant draw a straight line, you say...maybe he's not trying to. Miller is not a fantastic artist, one goes to Alex Ross for that. What's made Miller popular is his vision, stories, and the fresh approach he brought to comics. Jack Kirby wasnt a great artist in my opinion, but he was a great comic artist when you look at the sum of his finished product. Just like Mick Jagger isnt a great singer, he has a "way of delivering a song", as Ron Wood said, that makes him a great rock vocalist.
I would ask you to read Miller's comic masterpiece "The Dark Knight Returns" if you haven't, and see what you think of that.

Posted by: Billy Drax on April 18, 2005 10:15 AM

The quote of the moment for Sin City is: "This is incredible artistry in the service of a poisonous view of humanity."

That said I'm going to offer a comment that probably won't be that popular. I wished they had dropped the "Big Fat Kill" and "Yellow Bastard" storylines. I wish they'd done Marv's Story ("Hard Goodbye" and "A Dame to Kill For" insead. As I recall the stories intertwine nicely. That's just me though.

Just a note to Miller's artistic talent. Certain sources indicate to me that duplicating the black and white style found in Sin City is incredibly difficult, even for talented people. I couldn't say personaly since my gifts don't lay in that direction but it's a thought.

Posted by: Chris on April 19, 2005 5:14 PM

The comics were, in fact, used as storyboards for the film.

There's a story that Rodriguez kept copies of the graphic novels around, and often when Miller would suggest, say, a slight dialogue change, Rodriguez would say, "That's not how you wrote it in the book." Apparently, at one point Miller suggested that one character should have a hat, and Rodriguez said, "He doesn't have a hat in the book." Whereupon Miller grabbed the book, took out a pen, drew a hat on the guy, and gave it back, saying "There -- NOW he's got a hat."

Posted by: Riff on April 24, 2005 11:37 PM