Viking Night: Sin City
By Bruce Hall
December 3, 2013
With Sin City, Robert Rodriguez’s devotion to his source material is clear. The movie adheres pretty closely to select material from Frank Miller’s comic and more importantly, Rodriguez took advantage of the latest in digital and computer effects to create a stunning visual palette unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Well, not entirely. I tend to view it as of a cross between Tron, Pulp Fiction and Who Framed Roger Rabbit - with the dialogue being more Tron and less Rabbit. Still, Sin City is a feast for the eyes. Its high contrast palette and bizarre cartoon physics remain stunning to this day. It really DOES look like a comic book.
Unfortunately, it also sounds like one. As I said, the film is based on certain material taken from the long running Frank Miller series of the same name. Because of this, several not-entirely-related stories are forced to congeal into one fascinating-but-confusing mass of vengeance, violence and dialogue that sounds lifted from the red ink stained repertoire of a ninth grade remedial fiction class. I consider myself a fan of Miller’s, mainly because of his ability to push the genre to places that it’s never been. But despite his knack for innovation there’s a thread – no, a half inch thick polypropylene rope – of cynicism and nihilistic anger running through his work that doesn’t always do his vision justice.
The film is bookended by a pair of scenes that would seem to have little to do with the rest of the movie. But it begins with a bleak, sexy, tightly written prologue that implies you’re in for an old school noir detective thriller worthy of the ages. A hit man (Josh Hartnett) romances and then murders a beautiful woman (Marley Shelton) on a rain slicked balcony against a stark, digitally rendered skyline. Supposedly, this was the proof of concept footage used to sell the film to Miller, and I can only imagine his delight as he watched his comic literally leap to life from the screen.
And I love it, too. It’s all the parts after that I have trouble accepting.
John Hartigan (Bruce Willis) is an aging, hard boiled cop with a heart condition – and he’s on his last assignment before retirement (no, I’m not making that up). He and his partner are on their way to a warehouse to apprehend a psychotic child molester who also happens to be the son of a powerful US Senator named Roark (Powers Boothe). It’s never explained how the police know that Roark Junior (Nick Stahl) and his victim are there, but unfortunately for Hartigan, he’s the only cop not on the take tonight. Things go bad, his partner sells him out, but Hartigan saves the girl anyway, and manages to permanently disfigure Junior in the process. It’s an effective scene that sets up this seedy universe, as well as the rotten people who inhabit it.
Next up is Marv (Mickey Rourke, under a pound of makeup), a career criminal fresh out of the joint who hooks up with a hooker named Goldie. While Marv is asleep, a mysterious prowler (Elijah Wood) murders Goldie, and frames the ex-con for the killing. Now on the run, Marv resolves to uncover the truth behind Goldie’s death, regardless of the cost. It turns out that all of this has something to do with Cardinal Patrick Henry Roark (Rutger Hauer), brother to the Senator and uncle to the child molester. Without ruining the story for you, let’s just say that the Roark family are a generically evil political gang whose extracurricular exploits make the Kennedys look like model citizens.