For those of you who've been complaining that today's movies seem more and more like comic books...well, stay away from Sin City, which seems exactly like a comic book. Excuse me, I meant to say graphic novel; and let me tell you something, Sin City puts the "graphic" back in "graphic novel." By the time I stopped counting, two heads had been dunked into yet-to-be-flushed toilets, two men's crotches had been blown to smithereens, seven heads had been lopped off, five of them mounted on the wall like a hunter's trophies. And did I mention the German shepherd that chews on what's left after a guy's legs have been severed just above the knee? In the movie's defense, the guy had it coming.
The guy always has it coming, of course, but Sin City, which is less adapted than transplanted, panel by panel, to the screen from Frank Miller's hellish inkblots, revels in the sadistic charge of vengeance-is-mine. About the only thing that makes it bearable to watch is the movie's comic-book artistry, the white-on-black images that put you in mind of medieval woodcuts. Even the blood is often white, splattering like bird shit. In fact, so faithful has director Robert Rodriguez (best known for the Spy Kids movies) been to his source material that you almost expect thought balloons to appear over the characters' heads. Actually, that might have been an improvement. The hardboiled dialogue plays better on the page.
With a nod to Pulp Fiction, Sin City presents three stories that overlap, although not with the narrative sophistication that Tarantino brought to his juggling act. First up is Bruce Willis as a cop "with a bum ticker" who rescues a little girl from a flesh-eating psycho-killer, then spends the rest of his life paying for it. Second up is Mickey Rourke as a crook who falls in love with a one-night stand, then spends the rest of his life avenging her murder. And third up is Clive Owen as a cop or a crook -- I couldn't really tell which -- who rescues a waitress (Brittany Murphy) from a crooked cop (Benicio Del Toro), then spends the rest of the...well, you get the picture. Men kill other men on behalf of women.
Not that the women can't do their own dirty work. In the movie's most enjoyable sequences, Rosario Dawson leads an army of prostitutes who are dressed to kill and even more lethal when undressed. They run Old Town, Sin City's red-light district, and that's what passes for sisterhood-is-power feminism in Frank Miller's testosterone-fueled world. He's been given a co-directing credit, although the movie was "shot and cut" by Rodriguez. And he must be thoroughly delighted with the results. Never before has a graphic novelist's work been so slavishly translated to the screen. All that's missing is the aura of quiet contemplation that surrounds the reading of a comic book, next to which the movie version seems as noisy as hell.