Sin City (2005) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Since just about everyone reading this already knows what Sin City is, I know I will be stating the obvious in these first few paragraphs, but I need to do it anyway. I have to provide the background info for those who have just arrived on Earth today from distant planets. I do this as a public service to help them collect the data they need to study our quaint earthling ways, in the hope that by doing so I will get to be a zookeeper/trustee when they enslave our race and force the rest of you into their distant zoos. Most of you will be called upon three times a day (your "feeding times") to demonstrate cute and primitive earthling behavior in a realistic natural habitat. For example, perhaps you will be herded into a smoky bar and forced to sing karaoke. Meanwhile, I will be standing behind the glass walls with the aliens and other condescendingly superior beings like Tom Wolfe, laughing at your poor Sinatra impersonations while all-skillful galactic pleasure women take me to the Inn of the 14th Happiness. Sorry, suckers.

This film is an adaptation of three noir stories from an eponymous comic book, but to state that is to oversimplify the film's provenance because the comic itself is pretty much of a personal interpretation of the pulp stories of the 30s and 40s, as they would have been interpreted in the film noir movies of the forties if the mores of that day had allowed it. Therefore, Sin City is something of a third or fourth derivative. If we skip all the intermediary interpretations and filters, we can probably state fairly that it is some stories from the pulp magazines brought to life with the technology of today and a tip of the hat to the stylized and dramatic lighting of 1940s film noir. Stated another way, it is a living, moving comic book. Oh, yeah, I'm aware that they don't call them comic books any more. Now they are "graphic novels," or "rendered tone-poems," or "classical graphic dramas," or "pictorialized novels," or "feats of rendered imagineering," or some such hoity-toity euphemism, but let's not kid ourselves, shall we? They are comic books, for better or worse.

The intention of the co-directors, Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller, was to bring the film version as close as possible to the precise look and feel of Miller's black and white comics about the lousiest part of the lousiest town on the lousiest planet in the galaxy, a place which looks like what Earth might look like if we had screwed up the development of our world even more than we already have. Sin City is a combination of the worst parts of Detroit and Bangkok and Manila and Hell, as it might be pictured through the eyes of Raymond Chandler and Hieronymus Bosch. The similarity of the comics and the film is reflected in the full name of the movie, "Frank Miller's Sin City", a moniker which not only gives credit where it is due, but will also help you get to the right theater in your local multiplex and thus avoid the mistake I made. Since the multiplex had three theaters playing Sin City, and I thought they were all the same movie, I accidentally wandered into the competing "Charlotte Bronte's Sin City", and it just wasn't the same. I mean instead of nudity and torture scenes, the only sins I saw were withering sidelong looks, hastily averted glances, and subtly smug apothegms. There was not one single decent on-screen castration of any of those Dukes or Earls. What the hell was wrong with those people in the 19th century?

Once I high-tailed it out of that costumed creepshow and made it into the Frank Miller version, I felt cozy and right at home. The film has just about everything you need in a pulp story: heroes willing to die for little girls, ugly tough guys with a code of honor, creepy super-powered baddies, and hookers whose butts are never covered. And then you get your hybrid archetypes, like creepy super-powered hookers and baddies whose butts are never covered. The violence level? Over the top. What's your pleasure? Dismemberment? Decapitation? Torture? Violence against women and animals? If you can name it, it's probably here. What about the sex and nudity level? Outstanding. Various women parade around in thongs and/or see-throughs. Jaime King shows her breasts in a scene with Mickey Rourke. Carla Gugino walks around in nothing but a thong in a scene with Mickey Rourke, and she is photographed from many angles. Later on, Carla even shows her butt without the thong, in another scene with ... well, I guess you can figure out who. I can't say that I would like to be Mickey Rourke, but there is something to be said for a career which seems to consist entirely of having beautiful women show you their bodies, so a tip o' the cap to the Mickster.

Mick plays some kind of deformed super-human monster with undefined and mysterious maladies that give him great strength and a very confused mind which is prone to delusions. Not unlike what Mick himself is like in real life. This particular story is kind of a new take on Beauty and the Beast. In all of his miserable existence, even hookers have refused to sleep with this beast, even the special extra-sleazy Sin City type of hookers! He is, as you can imagine, incredibly grateful to the one woman who has ever been kind to him. Unfortunately for everyone, some bad guys have made the rather unfortunate decision to kill that one woman and to frame Mick for the murder. Remember Bruce Banner's line, "You wouldn't like me when I'm angry"? Well, the Mickster is like that, too, and after he finds out about the murder, he is one angry deformed dude. He is willing to do whatever it takes to get revenge.

This story was absolutely the best of the three - the grossest, the wittiest, and the sexiest. Miller also came up with some tremendous lines in this section. At one point Mick is about to kill a corrupt cardinal who was behind the murder of his girlfriend when the cardinal says, "You're going to enjoy killing me, aren't you?" Mick responds with an evil smile and a flick of his cigarette, then growls, "The actual killing - no. But everything leading up to that - that'll be a gas!!" When ol' Mick finally gets the electric chair, someone pulls the switch, he convulses and seems to be overcome, then opens his eyes and sneers furiously, "Is that the best you got, you pansies?" Mickey Rourke's career should be in full-fledged comeback after this film is widely seen. Know what? He deserves it. He played the man-beast perfectly. He got the integrity. He got the sleaze. He got the humor. He just plain nailed it. 

The other two stories weren't as good as that one, and they seemed to run a bit longer than necessary, but they were kept constantly energized by the visual imaginations of Miller and Rodriguez. There was always something interesting to see. I don't think it is at all unfair to talk about this film among the great genre films of all time: Rear Window, Pulp Fiction, The Good the Bad and The Ugly, Blade Runner, or any other one you can name. Robert Rodriquez has taken the film noir genre about as far as it can possibly go, and he's rendered the comic-to-film genre about as accurately as can possibly be done. I have always said he was probably the most talented director in the world (although I have not always liked his movies), and I am ready to reaffirm my belief.

Interestingly, Rodriguez is following the loose-cannon prediction that I made for him a couple of years ago. I likened his career to Sergio Leone's, and I said that the next step would be to achieve complete mastery of genre films, before moving on to deeper material. When Leone was about the age Rodriguez is now, he delivered Once Upon a Time in the West and The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, thus doing just about everything artistic that could possibly be done with a Western. After a lull of about a decade and a half in which he couldn't seem to move forward, Leone suddenly emerged with one of the greatest masterpieces in the history of film, the full-length version of Once Upon a Time in America. Mr. Rodriguez now seems to have mastered genre films. I suppose he will make a few more, then will probably get bored. Will he eventually follow Leone's path and try to create something deeper from some important source material? Lord knows he has plenty of time to mess around. He's only 37.

Not everyone will like this film, and you should absolutely not expose young children to this material. Hell, one character gets castrated twice - try explaining that to your impressionable minds! The R-rating was generous. It could easily be NC-17. The film is lurid and seamy, is filled with gratuitous sex, and is politically incorrect. It is filled with violence committed by despicable, ugly people who take pleasure in the suffering of others, and the violence is often portrayed graphically and explicitly.  In other words, it is everything it should be to interpret pulp stories properly. Even if you don't like it, you still owe it to yourself to have seen it if you consider yourself a lover of films or a student of what can be done with the art of cinema, because this is the 9th Symphony, the Pieta, the Hamlet of genre films. Look, Sparky, I think it's a safe guess that Beethoven, Michelangelo and Shakespeare are not likely to come back to life, so you might want to enjoy the work of a master while we have still him among us.

Additional notes on the special edition 2-disk DVD:

This DVD is absolutely a must-own. It was the coolest film of the year and now it is the coolest DVD ever! If you only own ten DVDs, this should be one of them. In fact, if I had to strip my DVD collection down to one, I believe this would be it!!

It includes three versions of the film:

  • The original theatrical version of the film, which is 124 minutes long and winds all four stories together. The theatrical release includes four audio tracks. (1) The film itself. (2) A feature commentary with Robert Rodriguez & Frank Miller (3) a feature commentary with Robert Rodriguez & Quentin Tarantino (4) an audio track featuring a recording of the audience reaction at the Austin premiere

  • The re-cut extended version, which is 147 minutes long and consists of four completely discrete stories told from start to finish.

  • A special green-screen edition. This is fantastic! It shows the entire movie from beginning to end, in color, without any effects, just as Rodriguez would have seen it as it was filmed. (It shows about half of the frames, sped up to about four times normal speed, so it runs about 16 minutes.) It is basically just actors delivering their lines in totally green rooms, and therefore allows you to see exactly how the film was created. Brilliant extra feature!

Plus these never-before-seen features:

  • 15-minute film school with Robert Rodriguez
  • The Long Take: 17 uninterrupted minutes of Tarantino's segment
  • Sin City Night at Antones -- filmmakers, cast and crew party
  • 10-minute cooking school with Robert Rodriguez
  • Bloopers
  • A Hard Top With a Decent Engine: The cars of Sin City
  • Making the Monsters: Special effects make-up
  • Trench Coats & Fishnets: The costumes of Sin City
  • Booze, Broads & Guns: The props of Sin City
  • How it Went Down: Convincing Frank Miller to make the film
  • Giving the Characters Life: Casting the film
  • Special guest director: Quentin Tarantino
  • Sin-Chroni-City interactive game
  • Complete Sin City Graphic Novel - The Hard Goodbye

Oh, yeah, did I mention that most of Jamie King's nudity (and some of Carla Gugino's) is now available in color? I'm tellin' ya - this thing is heaven!


The link on the far left is the special edition DVD. The link in the center leads to the hardcover book about The Making of Sin City. The other link leads to the original Frank Miller graphic novel which became the Mickey Rourke story in the movie.

DVD info: see above



see the main commentary

The Critics Vote ...

  • Super-panel consensus out of four stars: almost a full four.  James Berardinelli 3.5/4, Roger Ebert 4/4.

The People Vote ...

  • IMDB summary. IMDb voters rate it 8.4, among the top 80 films of all time!
  • Box Office Mojo. It was a hit, grossing $74 million with an April release. The budget was $45 million.

Miscellaneous ...

The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a C+. It's one of the best films I've seen in the millennium, maybe the best genre film ever, so I want to give it an A, but our description forbids that. Obviously, if you hate films with gratuitous nudity and violence, you will not like this film, which deliberately wallows in its own sleaze, and in which the sex and violence is its own reward. I would certainly give it four stars on a traditional scale, however.

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