Frank Miller is a boundary-pushing iconoclast turned comic-book icon. Robert Rodriguez is a thoroughly maverick filmmaker whose built major mainstream street cred. Together, they meet in the grim, gritty back alleys of Miller's masterful creation Sin City and, much like the resultant film's characters, find something wildly noble and worthy in the bleak, deadly shadows. It's a movie worth taking a bullet for.
Sin City is culled from the best of over a decade's worth of writer-artist Miller's hard-boiled crime noir comic-book miniseries and short stories, which occasionally intertwine and often feature characters who are merely background players in one storyline but are later elevated to major players in others. It's three bleak, violent tales play out in a dark, deadly town of boozy back alleys, bereft of superheroes but filled to the brim with downtrodden men with shady pasts and violent tendencies offset by valiant intentions. They co-exist alongside dangerous dames who mix sex, violence and manipulation, harboring corruption around every corner. "The Hard Goodbye," is a visceral, balls-to-the-wall actioner starring the brutal but well-intentioned Marv (Mickey Rourke), a barbarian warrior who unfortunately was born in the 21st Century, as he avenges the death of the beautiful, beloved hooker (Jaime King) he's spent just a single heavenly night with. The taunt, atmospheric "The Big Fat Kill" finds the heroic Dwight (Clive Owen) struggling to protect the fragile peace between the corrupt cops of Sin City and the uniquely empowered prostitutes of Old Town, including his own paramour, the dominatrix Gail (Rosario Dawson) and the katana-swinging Miho (Devon Aoki). And in the best of the terrific lot, "That Yellow Bastard"--which bookends the film--is about the world-weary cop Hartigan (Bruce Willis) as he lays his life and career on the line to protect a little girl from a diseased but privileged pedophile/killer (Nick Stahl), only to have to race to her rescue again when she's targeted as an adult (Jessica Alba). There's also a moody framing sequence, "The Babe Wore Red," with two sexy sophisticates (Josh Hartnett and Marley Shelton) entering into an unexpected relationship atop a rain-soaked skyscraper.
Sin City plays host to one of the most impressive and talented acting ensembles in recent memory, outside of a Quentin Tarantino film (to which Sin City is a blood relative--more on that in a moment). Along with actors already mentioned, the film also boasts Benicio Del Toro, Brittany Murphy, Elijah Wood, Carla Gugino, Michael Madsen, Alexis Bledel, Rutger Hauer, Powers Boothe and even Miller himself as a priest who faces Marv's wrath. Mickey Rourke in particular is nothing short of astounding as Marv, delivering a brilliant performance from underneath layers of prosthetics that make him a dead ringer for Miller's graphic creation. Also impressive is an absolutely unrecognizable Del Toro, totally transformed into his character Jackie Boy, a walking embodiment of casual, everyday evil who finds his match in Owen's believably noble Dwight. The women are mostly on hand to serve as jaw-dropping stunners who stoke the flames of our heroes' wounded hearts, but Dawson especially shines as Gayle, a deliriously battle-ready modern-day valkyrie in lingerie and fishnets. Murphy finally finds a match for her off-kilter charms as a comely cocktail waitress, and Gugino gives a brave, understated and unnervingly sexy performance. It's Willis, however, who truly walks away with the movie, expertly capturing every element of Hartigan: his tough-as-nails demeanor, his physical failings, his panic, paranoia, passion, and, ultimately, grim resolve. Willis adroitly covers the full gamut of film noir emotion in his best work in ages.
The film is billed as being co-directed by Rodriguez and Miller, because the former was so insistent on capturing every rich element of the writer-artist's world that he wanted him at his side on the set every moment. The noble Rodriguez even chucked his Directors Guild of America membership when the DGA irrationally tried to get Miller taken off the film--despite the fact that Miller is no stranger to movies, having written two RoboCop sequels and seeing his comics work inform much of the Batman and Daredevil films. The end result was well worth the effort: the script lifts Miller's razor-sharp dialogue directly from the comics pages in a lean, sparse style that nevertheless packs as much barroom punch as Mickey Spillane and as much back alley poetry as Raymond Chandler, while the visuals painstakingly bring Miller's distinctive art--a graphic euphoria of stylized black-and-white imagery occasionally offset by bursts of brilliant, important color--to cinematic life via the uncanny digital efforts of Rodriguez's f/x house Troublemaker Digital. As if that weren't enough, Rodriguez pal and Miller fan Quentin Tarantino steps in as a "Special Guest Director," helming one of the most harrowing extended scenes in "The Big Fat Kill." If there's a flaw to be found, it's in the otherwise atypical comic book-style action of "The Hard Goodbye." Yet, the sequence still wows, playing out as a pitch-perfect realization of Miller's very first Sin City story, when he was still working out the ground rules of his stark, seedy stomping grounds.
Never before has the brilliant singular vision of a comic-book creator been so cinematically and entertainingly realized on screen. So head on into that dangerous dive, Kadie's Club Pecos saloon, pull up a barstool (but not too close to Marv), grab an eyeful of Nancy swinging her lasso oh-so-sexy on the stage and when Shellie the waitress passes by, order up: It's (Frank) Miller Time, bolstered by knockout shots of Rodriguez and a potent Tarantino chaser. It's likely to leave you with a hangover the next morning, but oh, how you'll enjoy the buzz through the dimly lit night.