The Watchers

The Watchers

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Sin City (2005)

Currently in cinemas is Sin City: A Dame To Kill For, the hotly-anticipated sequel to 2005's Sin City. This seems like a good time to go back to assess the original film.

Sin City is, on the very basic level, a comic book adaptation. Frank Miller wrote the Sin City graphic novels between 1991 and 2000 but- having had a negative experience of working in Hollywood (with his screenplays for RoboCop 2 and RoboCop 3 being drastically altered)- Miller was not keen to release the film rights for any of his other comic books, for fear of the same thing happening again. 

Director Robert Rodriguez (El Mariachi, From Dusk Til Dawn, The Faculty) was a huge fan of the comic-book series and wanted to make a film version of them- but wanted it to be a 'translation, not an adaptation', sticking very closely to the source material. Choosing a 3-page short story entitled 'The Customer Is Always Right' from the 1994 collection The Babe Wore Red And Other Stories, Rodriguez got actors Marley Shelton (The Customer) and Josh Hartnett (The Salesman) to perform against a green-screen then added the background scenery in digitally. Once filming was completed, Rodriguez flew Miller into Austin to see the finished result. Very happy with the end result, Miller agreed for several of his Sin City yarns to be adapted for the film. This 'proof of concept' footage acts as the opening scene of the film.

Josh Hartnett and Marley Shelton in 'The Customer Is Always Right'
The three yarns adapted for the film are 'That Yellow Bastard' (the Hartigan/Nancy storyline), 'The Hard Goodbye' (Marv's story) and 'The Big Fat Kill' (Dwight's tale), and the film takes the Pulp Fiction mode of having separate chapters but not necessarily seen in the proper chronological order. It is interesting to note there is no official screenwriting credit for the film, apart from noting they are based on Miller's graphic novels. That is because of Rodriguez' desire to translate Miller's work as closely as possible on-screen. Rodriguez and Miller worked very closely together, with Miller providing direction to the actors and Rodriguez using the original comic books as storyboards. Rodriguez felt both he and Miller should be credited as directors and, when the Directors Guild of America would not allow it, Rodriguez resigned from the DGA to allow the co-director credit to stand. Quentin Tarantino is credited as a Special Guest Director, for filming a scene in 'The Big Fat Kill' which sees Dwight (Clive Owen) imagining a conversation with Jackie Boy (Benicio del Toro) in his car, before being pulled over by the police.

Tarantino's scene
Along with Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow (2004), Sin City is one of the first films to be shot on a digital backlot. Whilst the majority of the film was shot on green-screen, using Sony HDC-950 high-definition digital cameras, there were several practical sets created, including Kadie's Bar (seen in all three stories) and Shellie's apartment (seen in 'The Big Fat Kill'). The film was initially shot in colour and then converted to black-and-white with colorisation of certain elements within a scene (the colour of someone's eyes or lips, a car, and so on). The end result is striking, stylish and not like anything that had come before it. The visual style of the film is absolutely sumptuous, the backgrounds beautifully rendered. The violence- and there is a lot of it, limbs flying round with abandon, blood splattering all over the place- is strikingly rendered in white (and yellow in one scene) which adds to the comic book feel of the piece. It would certainly be a different film if the bloodshed was rendered properly.

Nick Stahl as The Yellow Bastard
Performances are pretty good across the board, with Bruce Willis, Mickey Rourke and Clive Owen giving solid lead performances as Hartigan, Marv, and Dwight respectively. Willis' performance is emotionally affecting- Hartigan feels like the last good man in a corrupt police force, fighting to save the young Nancy from the clutches of an abusive child molester. Rourke is great as Marv, a solid lump of a man with a bizarre streak of chivalry which leads him to track down the killers of a young woman who was kind to him. Owen oozes danger and charisma as Dwight, a criminal caught in the crossfire between the girls of Old Town and a corrupt cop. There's a great turn by Rosario Dawson as Gail, de facto leader of the girls of Old Town and a former flame of Dwight's. Jessica Alba is similarly strong as the grown-up Nancy who still remembers the man who saved her, whilst Rutger Hauer has a nice cameo as Cardinal Roark, whose misdemeanours lead him to a confrontation with Marv. 

Mickey Rourke as Marv
The film was shown at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival and was in competition for the Palme d'Or. Whilst it did not win, Rodriguez was awarded the Technical Grand Prize for the film's visual style. It grossed $29.1 million in its opening weekend in the US and took $158.7 million at the box-office worldwide. Reviews were, as you might expect, mixed. Whilst Roger Ebert called it 'uncompromising and extreme... and brilliant' (giving it 4 out of 4) and another reviewer stating 'Really, there will be no reason for anyone to make a comic-book film ever again', other reviews lingered on the 'murder, torture, decapitation, rape, and misogyny.' It is not a film for the fainthearted or the easily offended. It is a relentlessly macho film, a gritty throwback to the film noir style of the 1940s where men were men and women were either virgins or whores. There's a lot of female flesh on show but there's also a refreshing streak of unapologetic female sexuality (seen in Gail and the girls of Old Town). 

Sin City is hailed by some as a modern classic and its place in the evolution of film-making is undeniable. It's gritty, gory, stylish, visceral and one hell of a ride. But does A Dame To Kill For live up to it? We'll be sharing our thoughts on the film in an upcoming programme.


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