My wife and the kids were away the night before last, and I decided to finally watch Sin City -- a movie that a friend of mine lent me ages ago but I figured wasn't going to get much support for Family Movie Night so it sat in "the pile" for several years. Film Noir in a Comic Book Style. How could that possibly fail to entertain?
The Simple Verdict: I should have left it in the pile.
Once I start a movie or book, I'm pretty much committed to finishing it. In my life I've voluntarily abandoned four movies and one book. It's a pride thing, you understand. In my mind, each uncompleted sitting is a personal failure. And so I forced my way to the end of Sin City.
I can see why everybody who talks about it says "The visuals are really stylish." It's because a) they kind of are (especially at the beginning while they're still making an effort), and b) because there's not much else good to say about it.
I'll admit that the cinematography gives a worthy nod to the source comic-book style in panels, transitions, and even dialogue structure. But even the tongue-in-cheekiest cinematography can't rescue a fundamentally unappealing film, and there was really no other redeeming feature to the plot, writing or acting that I could see. Everything beneath the shallow surface gloss is just awful.
If you haven't seen it, there are four stories. Three and a half, really.
Story A is a delicate little vignette which is interesting and open-ended. It has that much referenced striking visual signature in black and white cartoonish style with colored highlights. It would be well-regarded in a short film festival, and would perhaps win an award or two. It contains the killing, of course, but that is handled with empathy and is perfectly justified by the story itself.
Stories B and C (and B again) are nothing but unpleasant torture/dismemberment/castration/cannibalism slasher-porn. Story D has the dismemberment, but plays for giggles by substituting decapitation for the torture.
With difficulty but with determination, I studiously shunted aside the tedious blood-spurting, human-flesh-eating, head-shotting violence in an attempt to see the underlying "artistic merits" of the film. But there aren't any. Sadly, all there is underneath the gore is justice-fantasies, castrations, puerile sexism and lots of thigh-level black and white camera work of perfect female asses in g-strings and stockings. A couple of the main leads have interesting potential, but they all get whittled down to punching/shooting/stabbing/slicing/skinning machines pretty quickly.
The director starts off with best intentions and a semi-sophisticated "Film Noir" voice. But by half-way through he clearly sees there's no option but to give in to the schtick, and the actors jut out their chins and rattle off the corniest of ham-fisted dialogue while laughing at themselves knowingly. The visual signature has fully worn out its welcome when the tedious two-hour running time is done.
Really, the overwhelming insult was just the childishness of it all. This is an R18 movie, but frankly, if you're old enough to see it, I would hope you'd be mature enough to be offended by the suggestion that you would be entertained by it.
Actually, maybe I'm wrong. Maybe the biggest insult was the sheer lack of variety. The "cop saves girl from psycho-killer protected by father" had way too much in common with the "thug saves girl from psycho-killer protected by powerful clergyman". Err... and then just when you think it's all over, the final 30 minutes repeats the "cop saves girl from psycho-killer protected by father" all over again, eight years later on. Three of the four stories are basically... the same one story. And don't tell me "But one of them eats girls and feeds the bones to his dog, while the other one flogs their skin off" -- I claim those subtle difference to be only... errr... "skin deep".
Hang on. Can I reconsider? Maybe the Tits & Ass fill-ins were the biggest insult. I always worry about people who watch a movie and so comfortably flit from a torture slow-mutilation scene to a shower scene. Don't they find that one distracts from the other? Personally, when a guy cuts off a girls hand and eats the fingers, I find that to be a bit of a boner-killer. So cutting the shot directly from the decapitation to the bump-and-grind strip-club scene just feels counter-productive. If I wanna get turned on, I'll watch naked girls. If I want to feel... well, I'm not sure what the eye-gouging is supposed to make me feel... but I'd like to give it a little breathing room and separate it from the soft-porn. That just feels the "decent" thing to do.
Ugh, whichever insult was the biggest, I can no longer think of Frank Miller as an adult. This is just a teenage wank-fest. How can a grown man get paid for writing that plodding, unsubtle, linear plot? Or that corny, dialog and those one-dimensional characters? Let alone the sexism! I sure hope his wife doesn't read the crud he produces. No, wait. I hope she does. That would serve him right.
There must be a market out there for this stuff. But really, there shouldn't be. There's no possible redeeming "It's just being ironic and reflecting society." defence for this. Sin City has no excuse for existence.
I recently re-read The Big Sleep, the classic crime novel featuring Philip Marlowe. It contains (no real spoilers here) blackmail, kidnapping, pornography and several murders. It is also one of the finest books I have ever read. It contains (in my unreliable opinion) passages of such deft perspicacity and piercing description that I almost hurled the book across the room with the injustice of how writer Raymond Chandler should have received such exceptional gifts of imagination and communication.
So if your "Crime Noir" itch needs scratching, then there's a good place to go.
No T&A though. You'll have to turn on MTV in the background to get the perfect asses in stockings and g-strings.