From the Archive: Sin City

There was talk about a Sin City sequel after from the very moment of its release. Much as I loved the original film, I never thought returning to the stylized world was a good idea. I’m somewhat surprised anyone still maintained there was any wisdom in the idea after Frank Miller delivered a colossal bomb with the de facto sequel found in his official directing debut, the film adaptation of Will Eisner’s The Spirit. This piece was included in my year-end countdown after I’d started writing film reviews again at my original online home. As the first sentence notes, I listed it under the longer, possessive-adorned name at the time.

I’m using the title with the possessive statement in part because that’s the official title according to the Motion Picture Association of America (and I figure they ought to know), but mostly because it serves as an apt description of the film. Sin City is unmistakably Frank Miller’s vision, lifted from the page and transposed to the screen. Director Robert Rodriguez stuck to his conviction that Miller’s stylized visuals from his series of graphic novels should be the look of the film adaption with such rigid adherence that one can hold the printed pages up to the flickering lights of Rodriguez’s project and find nary a difference. Miller’s original work served as storyboards to be sure, but there are moments that could almost convince that individual panels were clipped and used as actual frames of film. When it comes to director Robert Rodriguez (or co-director in this instance as he insisted Miller get equal billing and subcontracted a sequence out to Quentin Tarantino) I admire his work ethic, his belief in family, his commitment to working at his home studio in Texas; basically everything but his filmmaking. Up to this point, I’ve been umimpressed with everything he’s seen, and even found some of it nearly unwatchable. So it’s tempting to assume that the artistic success of Sin City is wholly attributable to working from someone else’s sturdy framework, but I think that would be selling Rodriguez short. In the remarkable work Understanding Comics, cartoonist Scott McCloud examines the power that exists between the panels of sequential art storytelling, the way the reader fills in the gaps to complete the story. To a degree that’s what Rodriguez has done here: found the sweep and energy and binding imagery that can pull together Miller’s collection of grim, amped-up visuals and gritty stories of cops, dames, and thugs. And what Rodriguez creates between the panels is outrageously dynamic, taking Miller’s original effort and making it something more than an experiment in rendering film noir in pen and ink. The film is violent and harsh, often cartoonishly so, but it bears with it a frenzied conviction in the world it depicts that is utterly engrossing. Despite the fact that Miller took his original cues from Hollywood film noir, you’ve never seen anything like this on screen, the hard-edged black and white punctuated by dollops of vivid color on city streets that look the way they should, but not a way they ever really could. Every bit of this film is drunk with the possibilities of visual storytelling, the brash freedom that comes with fearlessly throwing wild inspiration onscreen. All it took was a dedicated moviemaker who read a comic, thought it would look great on a movie screen, and set out to prove himself right.