Monday, April 04, 2005

deep shadows and brilliant highlights

"It's time to prove to your friends that you're worth a damn. Sometimes that means dying, sometimes it means killing a whole lot of people."

When it comes to movies, I am definitely in the style over substance camp and Sin City is overflowing with style. Meaning, it would likely get a pretty fine review from me without any story at all. But Sin City not only looks amazing, but it also has some substance along with all of the blood that often runs thick and white and rain that pours down in white lines during much of the film. The look of Sin City raises it above the typical motion picture and into the realm of art.

In Sin City, Robert Rodriguez has brought the work of Frank Miller to the big screen not just by telling the stories of Sin City, but by using the graphic novels as his storyboards, painstakingly reproducing each frame into film and giving the film its very innovative look. And the result is glorious to behold. Shot in glorious black and white and using splashes of color, like red lipstick, occasionally bathing characters in blue or green light and of course, the flowing of sometimes red blood.

I was most stunned by the shots in the last of the three major tales told in Sin City. When Hartigan (Bruce Willis) is behind bars, I was stunned by the beautiful use of contrast that it looked more like a graphic novel then film. It also reminded me of German expressionism (Fritz Lang) with the stark contrast and the extreme isolation of Hartigan in a square cell surrounded by nothingness. These images were so powerful that the dialog and narration were almost unnecessary. In fact, at times this film could have existed as a silent film due to the power of the visuals and the amazing action sequences.

And speaking of great action sequences, in the wrong hands the comic book action of Marv (Mickey Rourke) could have come across as silly and over the top, much like the animated hulk in Ang Lee’s Hulk, but in Sin City Marv’s unlikely stunts fit into his world and were simply amazing to watch as well as an example of the power of working in digital. It was impressive to watch Marv burst through doors and stop a cop car by crashing through the windshield feet first. One could definitely see Rodriguez’ Mariachi trilogy as his training ground for filming these amazing action sequences that are absolutely riveting and always filmed with a flare and coolness that is shared with all of Rodriguez’ work.

But I still haven’t gotten around to mentioning the substance of Sin City, which are found in the stories. I was really taken by surprise at the character development and the heart of some of the stories. As the film rolled, I was certain early in the movie that I would be talking about Mickey Rourke’s performance as the mad brut Marv for some time. I was beside myself with enthusiasm just to see Rourke in a major role as I found him absolutely fascinating in so many films in the 80s. He was such a dichotomy with his once very boyish good looks while conveying so much threat and having a rather dark sex appeal. After a failed boxing career, Rourke has disappeared from the collective pop culture consciousness, but the decision to cast him as Marv was brilliant. His muscular physique gave the role a level of believability and his charm and demeanor made Marv, even while gulping down anti-psychotic pills by the handful, a sympathetic character in his quest to revenge Goldie’s death.

Throuought the first third of the film, I was convinced that Mickey Rourke had stolen this film, but that was until we reached the next story with Benicio Del Toro as Jackey Boy and Clive Owen as Dwight. This portion of the film was probably the most fun as Benicio Del Toro was fascinating and Clive Owen oozed style and cool as he transported bodies out of old town in a car "with a large trunk". Plus, there is no hotter scene than watching Dwight along side the valkaries of old town, showering the place with bullets.

But I have to give the show stealing award to Bruce Willis. This is the second time that Bruce Willis manages to play the noblest character in a world oozing with corruption and crime. The first was in Pulp Fiction as Butch and now again as Hartigan, the cop with a bad heart who rescues skinny little Nancy Callahan from a pedophile. This was my favorite portion of the film as the high contrast black and white was made for Bruce Willis' face and his portrayal of a determined, aging cop was probably the most human and touching of the stories told in Sin City. It didn't have the over the top cartoonish action of Marv or the extreme cool and sexuality of Dwight and the prostitutes of Old Town, but Hartigan's story is the one with the most heart.

Sin City is going to be another highly polarizing film. Either people will love the sexuality and highly stylized violent world of Sin City or they will likely find it abhorrent or downright disturbing. I happen to be solidly in the “loved it” camp and will likely have to see it again before it leaves the theaters.