Graphic Novel


Sin City (2005)

Reviewed by Tom Ender

“Walk down the right back alley in Sin City and you can find anything.”

Faithfully based on Frank Miller's series of graphic novels, this modern film noir uses sophisticated movie making techniques to translate the striking look of the original works into film form. Director Robert Rodriguez, with assistance from Quentin Tarantino and the original storyteller as well as graphic artist: Frank Miller, works with a stellar set of actors who seem perfectly cast. I expect most people won't find this film appropriate for young children. Although not for every film viewer, those who enjoy gritty and hard-edged crime drama will search long and hard to find a film that, like this one, pulls no punches. Those, like me, who harbor skepticism for the American establishment will find kindred spirits in the characters of the movie and the apparent attitude of the filmmakers.

Sin City combines stories from three of Frank Miller's books. All take place in Basin City, but also share a common element in Kadie's Club Pecos. The filmmakers took a shorter separate story to form both the opening and closing sequences. I won't describe either of those small segments, since doing so might make spoilers.

The first narrative centers on Marv (Mickey Rourke) and the “love of his life” Goldie (Jaime King). The story opens with Marv drinking from a bottle saying: “The night is hot as hell.” He quenches his thirst and wonders at his good fortune in having the companionship of a “goddess” for the evening. They make love and fall asleep on a red satin-draped heart-shaped bed. When Marv wakes he has a tremendous hangover. Goldie has been murdered. As Marv wonders who killed Goldie, he hears the sirens of cop cars swarming toward him. Someone has tipped the police. Marv resolves to seek justice for Goldie's murder. After escaping the SWAT-armored cops, Marv's quest leads him to his parole officer: Lucille (Carla Gugino) and then to Kadie's Club Pecos, where he finds his first solid leads. Eventually those leads take him to a confessional where he speaks with a priest (Frank Miller), who gives him a name: “Roark” and directions to a farm. There he finds Kevin (Elijah Wood): a friend of Cardinal Roark (Rutger Hauer).

The second tale tells of a rarity in Basin City: an honest cop – John Hartigan (Bruce Willis) – and his efforts to protect a young girl: Nancy Callahan. This story begins with Hartigan on his last day with the police force, driving to meet his partner, Bob (Michael Madsen). His doctor ordered him to quit because of his heart condition, but he has a “loose end”: a young girl in the “hands of a drooling lunatic.” After ditching his partner, who wanted him to forget about the girl, he finds her (Makenzie Vega as 11 year old Nancy Callahan) with the son (Nick Stahl) of Senator Roark (Powers Boothe), brother of the previously mentioned Cardinal. Although Hartigan prevents Roark Jr. from raping and killing Nancy, things don't really go his way for long. However, Nancy survives and grows up (Jessica Alba plays 19 year-old Nancy), sticking by him. The Roarks aren't finished with Hartigan or Nancy.

The third story centers around Dwight McCarthy (Clive Owen) and Jack Rafferty (Benicio Del Toro) – two men of very different type – and their relationships with women. As it begins Shellie (Brittany Murphy) stands in her apartment with Jack knocking on her door. Shellie will not open the door. Dwight, also inside, tells Shellie to let Jack and his drunk friends in – he'll handle them. Both Shellie and Dwight have made appearances in previous scenes at Kadie's Club Pecos, but this time the story concerns them. It also concerns the girls of Old Town, that area of Basin City controlled by “ladies of the evening,” led by Gail (Rosario Dawson).

The original DVD offers the theatrical version of the film. In addition to the theatrical version, the Extended DVD contains a “director's recut.” That “recut” tells each story separately with restored scenes not included in the theatrical release. It also contains many extra features on the discs as well as a paperback copy of The Hard Goodbye.

All three stories concern courageous struggles of good against evil. Although Hartigan and his ordeal to save Nancy may most obviously fit that mold – judged by the usual standards – the other two stories also have the same basic outlines. Although Marv and Dwight have extensive criminal records; and the “fair maidens” they defend may have “questionable virtue” by mainstream morals; both men and "their women" show considerable nobility.

By his words, one sees that friendship and the loyalty it engenders motivate Dwight more than other concerns. In Kadie's, when he sees Marv at the bar, Dwight's thoughts give insight: “Most people think Marv is crazy. He just had the rotten luck of being born in the wrong century. He'd be right at home on some ancient battlefield swinging an axe into somebody's face.” Like Marv, Dwight also has a warrior nature as his lines often show. The appropriate metalwork seems all that Hartigan needs to complete the picture of a “knight in shining armor.”

The “unlikely heroes” contrast with Sin City's villains: crooked cops, corrupt politicians and demonic men of the cloth, with their “choirboys.” Many critics might say: “Senators don't have men killed.” That should sound familiar. The correct response was given by Michael in The Godfather: “Oh. Who's being naive, Kay?” I enjoyed Sin City as much as any other film I saw in 2005. That's quite a statement, considering the wealth of fine films that came out that year. However, for those who like gritty film noir, I don't think you'll find anything better. I give Sin City my highest recommendation.

Graphic Novel Set

Extended DVD

Soundtrack CD