Mickey Rourke, Bruce Willis stand out in visually stunning ‘Frank Miller’s Sin City’

[rating=3]Starring: Jessica Alba, Benicio Del Toro, Brittany Murphy, Clive Owen, Mickey Rourke, Bruce Willis, Elijah Wood
Director(s): Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez; Guest Director Quintin Tarantino
Writer(s): Based upon the graphic novel by Frank Miller

Bruce Willis and Jessica Alba (left) star in 'Sin City'
Bruce Willis and Jessica Alba (left) star in ‘Sin City’

As much as the visual style of Frank Miller’s Sin City intrigued me, it’s story that really matters, and I’m not so sure that this film really accomplishes that part as well as the look it establishes. With all its digital wizardry, only one storyline really stands out, and that one is its first.

The film is a collection of three stories, which loosely connect in the dark, corrupt Basin City (a.k.a., Sin City). There are corrupt and honorable cops, criminals with a heart and others with blood lust, and stone cold killers with no sense of morality. Based on the graphic novel of the same name, what’s unique most about this film is the lengths Robert Rodriguez went to in order to preserve the look and style of Frank Miller’s imagery. He even drafted the comic book writer — probably most famous for the Batman tome, The Dark Knight Returns — to be his co-director.

The list of stars who pollute this work is immense, playing all different levels of roles, from Bruce Willis to Josh Hartnett, some of which play only minor roles. The three stories are told separately, with Bruce Willis’ tale serving as book ends, starting at the beginning and concluding at the finale.

Hands down, however, Sin City belongs to Mickey Rourke’s Marv, a cement-head of a criminal who seeks revenge for the murder of the blonde-bombshell prostitute who gave him an evening of pleasure — something no other woman had dared do before. He’s a freakish killing machine, face scarred and leathered by one bloody brawl after another, and dedicated to finding her killer. He literally shoots, cuts and smashes his way through the criminal underworld until he finds his man (Elijah Wood) — a strange, deadly, killing cannibal with glasses and a sinister smile.

What makes this story so good is Marv, not just the character, but Rourke’s perfect portrayal of him. Hidden beneath a pile of make-up, Rourke imbues Marv with a bit of heart, humanity, humor and brutality that makes him ultimately the most likable character in the entire film. Sure, he’s a bad guy, but that’s not the point. The entire movie is filled with bad guys. Marv stands out, however, because he proves to be the most interesting of the bunch.

The dark humor also helps set Marv’s story apart, which comes through Rourke’s dead pan delivery. I just can’t stress how much Rourke took over this film, even though he’s only in a third of it.

The second story follows Dwight, and his adventures with the women of Old Town, which is where the prostitutes own everything and apply justice with a rather nasty and effective viciousness. And while I thought Clive Owen did a fine job in the role, this storyline goes on a little too long and sadly isn’t terribly interesting. Coming off the Marv tale, Owen’s Dwight pales in comparison. And the film’s weakest performance comes from Brittany Murphy, who horribly overacts here as Dwight’s waitress girlfriend, Shellie. Benicio Del Toro is terrific as the violent ex-lover of Shellie, but not enough to make this part of the film any more interesting.

The film concludes picking up Bruce Willis’ story from where it left off at the beginning. Shot and thought to be dead, we discover that he does in fact survive. However, he was saved by a crooked senator out for revenge, whose son Willis’ Hardigan disfigured. This is regardless of the fact that the son was a brutal pedophile, rapist and murderer, and Hardigan an old cop on the verge of retirement. Hardigan shot the son several times in order to save a young, 11-year-old girl, Nancy.

Thanks to the crooked senator, Hardigan is sent to jail for eight years for a crime he didn’t commit. Nancy secretly writes him letters every week for all those years, but when the letters suddenly stop coming, Hardigan fears the senator and his son may have found her. He quickly manages to get out of prison in search for the girl, who has grown into the beautiful Jessica Alba.

This story is another good tale, once more overshadowing the Dwight storyline, but lacking in the same sense of humor that made Marv’s story so fun. Hardigan’s tale is a love story, a tragic one, but a love story nonetheless.

There is no denying that the visuals are stunningly beautiful. Some of the digital movement doesn’t work, and comes off as awkward, but that doesn’t distract much. But it is really the style of the visuals more than the quality of them that is important. And Rodriguez manages to pull it off with amazing skill.

The problem here is the same with all of Rodriguez’ action films — all flash and no heart. While the Marv storyline has some, the rest don’t, and all your left with is some good dialogue and pretty pictures, but not much else. The voice overs that litter the movie don’t always work, making portions of Sin City more cumbersome than others. It’s one thing to remain loyal to the original work, and I applaud this film for that, but sometimes certain things don’t translate well.

Now, this disc has one — count it — one special feature, a rather lame behind-the-scenes featurette. I think it’s pretty darn obvious that they’re dishing this out now, but will be selling a special, deluxe, 2-disc DVD set somewhere down the line. I’d pretty much recommend waiting to buy that one, unless you don’t mind owning more than one edition of Sin City.

Rated: R
Run Time: 2 hrs., 4 mins.

Michael Sheridan

Michael Sheridan has written, directed and produced more than a dozen short films under the banner of Maynard Films, and has worked as a writer for more than a decade for websites, magazines and newspapers.

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