English Title: Sin City
Country of Origin: USA
Screenplay: Frank Miller
Cinematographer: Robert Rodriguez
Editor: Robert Rodriguez
Runtime: 124 minutes
Volume: American - Independent
One way of thinking about Sin City is that it is a cartoon: its sadism redolent of Tom and Jerry or Roadrunner animations, the violence is so over-the-top that you wonder where the spectacle lies. Is it in the fact that the actors are shot entirely against a stylized CGI backdrop? Or, rather, is the violence so extreme as to be rendered spectacular? Furthermore, Sin City is described in academic circles as not only a violent film, but that the violence therein reflects a kind of ‘homosexual panic’: sexuality is reduced to spectacular, caricatured and repeated assaults on male genitalia, both verbal and physical, throughout.
It is, perhaps, unfair to judge Sin City on the standards of cinema in this way, as it adheres so well to its origins as a hyper-violent dystopian comic-book vision of urban America, and the corruption that exists at all levels of a deeply-disturbed and alienated society. Sure enough, the homophobia and misogyny underlying much of the story-world here is troublesome, and not untypical of the graphic novel as a narrative form. The episodic nature of the narrative, for example, betrays that kind of loosely-linked storytelling that gives comic books their charm and strength, even as some of the content can be described as morally-suspect. In addition, the large ensemble cast, loosely-related narrative strands, and stylized graphics make it difficult to critique according to the conventions of film study, but Sin City does replicate some of the excesses of the violent action-thriller, and takes its narrative and visual cues from the rich library of film noir, nonetheless.
Quentin Tarantino’s involvement as ‘guest director’ is slight (he contributes the Jackie Boy corpse sequence), but works as a marketing ploy to draw a mainstream audience into Frank Miller’s rather dark storyworld. What Rodriguez himself has managed here is a strange hybrid of his twin careers as director: Tarantino-esque violent thrillers, such as El Mariachi (1992) and Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003), and children’s fantasy-adventures, such as his Spy Kids series. There are, therefore, some standout sequences in the film that enable the viewer to engage the characters with some sympathy. The damaged and ogre-like Marv, despite inflicting horrific carnage upon several peripheral characters in the film, nevertheless adheres to a grey moral code, and, in a role that Mickey Rourke was seemingly born to play, he gives one of the performances of his career. He manages to elicit pathos through the strange, almost autobiographical back-story: what we are witnessing in Marv’s rejection is a mirror of Rourke’s return to mainstream film-making after years in the wilderness and the loss of the good looks of his youth.
Author of this review: Greg Singh