Frank Miller’s ability to both introduce and explore the more darker elements of his characters is nearly unparalleled. Urban crime dramas are what he’s most known for and in that area, he tends to create stories that are homages to the 1940’s black-&-white Humprey Bogart film-noir style. With most of his characters’ thoughts comprising his narratives, being privy to this kind of internal monologue gives the listener and reader insight into their motivations, even if they seem everyday and mundane. The application of his seminal style in both Marvel and DC Comics resulted in characters like Batman and Daredevil having darker images that are now their definitive interpretations. In 1992, he wrote and penciled “Sin City” under Dark Horse comics. In the years that followed, the neo-noirish series comprised of inter-connected stories garnered several awards from the comic industry. Thanks to the box-office success of the film adaptations of X-Men and Spider-Man, it was time for Sin City to join the fray as well.
I had seen the trailers in 2005 during my final semester in college, but didn’t think much of it. I was still heavily invested in Marvel and hadn’t quite made room for indie comics yet. Even via word-of-mouth, I couldn’t find the time to catch the film. However, during the fall of that year, one of my cousins from Connecticut paid me a visit and brought the DVD of the film with him. He informed me, without relent, about how good the film is and how I needed to see it. I figured, “Ah, what the hell? I might as well see it now“. Of all of the comic-book adaptations brought to the big screen, the visuals on this one were attention-grabbers for certain. Shot in mostly black-&-white but maintaining the actual color of certain objects or people, it felt like I was viewing a comic book brought to life in three-dimensional reality. Even the dialogue as lifted from the books, and the delivery of said dialogue from the actors had a pulp-feel to it. Having three directors on the film (Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller and Quentin Tarantino) with a like-minded vision allowed the intertwining stories in the film to run seamlessly.
Not only were the visual styles stellar, but so was the cast: Josh Hartnett, Mickey Rourke, Michael Madsen, Jessica Alba, Elijah Wood, Rutger Hauer, Nick Stahl, Carla Gugino, Rosario Dawson, Benicio del Toro, Clive Owen, Brittany Murphy, Michael Clarke Duncan, Bruce Willis….it’s like, who isn’t in this film? The film adaptation was every bit as violent as the book. Some first-time viewers declared the violence as gratuitous, but I don’t think so. It’s stylized and essential to the film. From one character having both his hand and genitals maimed from gunshots to a teenage mute cannibalistic ninja serial having his extremities removed in a torture scene, it makes the ultra-violence in A Clockwork Orange look like a Disney movie.
I’d rather not get tangled up in explaining the plot because there’s just too much going on the film. However, here’s a summary: Basin City (the full name of the titular “Sin City”) is basically a west-coast Gotham City, but without Batman. You have one good cop, corrupt cops, street gangs, a pedophile serial killer protected through his family’s deep political connections, lesbian parole officer, and plenty of all-around heavies. Each character in the film represents some kind of archetype attributed to the crime-drama genre, but the biggest character of all is Sin City itself. In many ways, it (as with any large metropolis) has the characteristics of a living organism: The inhabitants are the cells, who then come together to make groups/organs (be it political, religious, law enforcement, street gangs, criminals, activists, and so forth). While some provide a greater function than others, they are all part of the same system that keep the city running even if it is for the worst.
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For will be released tomorrow August 22nd. Some of the original cast will be returning, and I can’t wait to see the newcomers (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Dennis Haysbert, Jeremy Piven, and even Lady Gaga). How will it compare to the original? I’ll let you know in my review for it next week.
Sy L. Shackleford is a jack-of-all-trades columnist for Action A Go Go. A UConn graduate with a degree in both psychology and communication sciences, he is a walking encyclopedic repository for all things Marvel Comics, movies, hip-hop, et. al.