Tuesday, April 05, 2005

MOVIES: Sin City

Fourth in a series of reviews from the ACAPCWOVCCAOE! Collect them all!*

I saw Sin City last night with Dorian, Mike, and Ian. As Dorian notes in his post, he probably had the most negative reaction to the film. I probably had the most positive, but I still had a number of reservations.

None of them were about the look of the film. I thought every frame was gorgeous. (Especially those frames containing Carla Gugino. She makes me go like this: grrRROWwll.) Yesterday I talked about how little I cared for a film entirely dependent on CGI. Sin City was shot in much the same way as Sky Captain, yet the CGI had me enthralled. Possibly because the film was mimicking the feel of a comic book, so that the unreality of the backgrounds seemed appropriate; possibly because there was plenty else to keep my attention aside from the CGI. I know Dorian and Mike both disliked the sequences in which the characters turned into pure white silhouettes against pure black backgrounds. I disagree; I thought those scenes were strikingly effective, so strange and different and interesting to see onscreen, as opposed to the printed page.

I think Mike and Dorian also equally disliked Mickey Rourke's makeup job as Marv, with Dorian disliking the actor beneath the makeup even more. I thought the makeup more than did its job of creating a cartoonishly disfigured palooka. And Rourke's performance was great; he's got more of a reputation these days as a Zalman King has-been and a weirdo who quit acting for a while to be a boxer, but look back on his career and you'll see some tremendous performances: The Pope of Greenwich Village, Diner, Year of the Dragon, Barfly, even Angel Heart. He can act, when he wants to, and he wants to here. He's maybe not quite as physically imposing as the comic book Marv, but he's as good a match as you're likely to find. He really sells Marv's crazy rage combined with his pathetic loneliness. He's an unstoppable wall of violence; he's a hangdog loser. Marv's "The Hard Goodbye" was my favorite of the film's three storylines.

But my favorite moment is in "The Big Fat Kill." It's the scene in the car between Clive Owen and Benicio Del Toro. Roger Ebert reveals that this is the scene for which Quentin Tarantino got his "Special Guest Director" credit. It's so twisted and funny and sick and brilliant, it makes me wish Tarantino had directed the whole thing. It's got more spark and life than any other scene. I wonder if Tarantino is the one who suggested Del Toro speak in two different registers?

I note how much more alive that scene is, because much of the rest of the film, despite its wonderfully brutal action scenes, is a little too flat, a little too stoically hard-boiled. Throughout the entire "Big Fat Kill" segment, Owen, Del Toro, Brittany Murphy, and Rosario Dawson bring a bigger-than-life energy that's lacking elsewhere. Dawson's orgasmic delight at gunning down some bad guys, with her eyes blazing and her mouth wide open and laughing maniacally, is a thrill to behold.

On the other end of the spectrum is Bruce Willis, who stars in my least favorite of the three storylines, "That Yellow Bastard." I like Willis a lot, but he doesn't show a single speck of his humor, which usually lightens his delivery when he's playing serious roles. He goes way beyond noir, way beyond deadpan, into simply dead, totally lifeless and unappealing. Dude, when Michael Madsen is livelier than you are, you are making the wrong acting choice. And I've never liked Jessica Alba, although I will say she looks mighty good twirling a lasso. There is a great moment in this segment, with corrupt senator Powers Boothe lording it over a bedridden Willis -- I've come to greatly appreciate Boothe from his dangerously, leeringly sadistic role on Deadwood, and he lives up to that level of intensity in Sin City. Nick Stahl is also very good here, disgustingly, poisonously evil. This segment also has the most sickening moment of violence, in which Willis removes the Yellow Bastard's "weapon". I'm still cringing!

The pacing of the film also troubled me. It sometimes hopped from moment to moment like a reader rapidly scanning panel after panel in a comic book, without slowing down enough to allow actors to develop their characters, or to allow beats in between the hard-boiled voiceovers (wonderfully written as they may have been) and the next scene of overwhelming violence. I often wished I had more time to take in the visuals, or that the actors had more room to deliver their terrific lines of dialogue.

Still, despite my reservations, my overall reaction was overwhelmingly positive. I loved the look, obviously, including the eye-catching spot-coloring, which popped off the screen the same way it pops off the page. I loved the writing; even the weakest moments of the film are propped up by Frank Miller's witty, gritty words. With a couple of exceptions (Willis, Alba, the jarringly out-of-place Josh Hartnett, who appears only in the opening and closing scenes, thankfully, and Gilmore Girls' Alexis Bledel, who's in way over her head), the cast is great, highlighted by the ones who weren't afraid to go over the top, like Rourke and most of the "Big Fat Kill" actors. It didn't quite meet my unrealistic expectations, but I'd still pay to see it again.

*Well, if you're not going to use that joke, Ian, then I am!

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