You can find anything in a city of sin

By Brian Jurilla

By Brian Jurilla

Comic books seem to be a hot property in Hollywood these days; “Spider-Man,” “Batman,” the “X-Men,” “Men in Black” and more have all been adapted for the big screen for big, blockbuster results. And now, acclaimed comic book writer and artist Frank Miller’s pride and joy, the dark and gritty “Sin City,” joins their ranks.

Creator Miller is known for his work on “Daredevil” and “Batman” in the 80’s, along with DC’s “Ronin” series. He created “Sin City” in an effort to regain creative control over his storytelling after clashing with directors over his “Robocop” sequel screenplays. The comic, which began in 1993, follows a number of characters – usually detectives, call girls and criminals – as they try to survive in the streets of Basin City, better known as Sin City to its citizens. Frank Miller’s creative concepts and artwork help the series stand-out among its peers.

Director Robert Rodriguez (“Spy Kids,” “Once Upon a Time in Mexico”) adapted Miller’s work and he, Miller and guest director Quentin Tarantino (“Pulp Fiction,” “Kill Bill”) brought his screenplay to life. The material is strengthened by performances from known actors like performers Bruce Willis, Jessica Alba, Brittany Murphy, Clive Owen, Mickey Rourke, Jamie King and many others.

Willis was particularly sympathetic as by-the-book detective John Hartigan while Rourke’s performance was really true to his character.The film, like the comic series, is broken into sub-stories. Three stories from comics – ‘Sin City’ (also known as ‘The Hard Goodbye’), ‘The Big Fat Kill’ and ‘That Yellow Bastard’ – are told in an interwoven narrative, with small details from certain stories popping-up in others and key characters crossing paths from time-to-time.

The film begins with ‘Goodbye,’ where a tough thug named Marv (Rourke) wakes up after a one-night stand to discover the woman lying next to him has been killed in an apparent set-up. Outraged at her death, he sets out to find the ones responsible and take revenge.Though it’s a straightforward revenge tale, Rourke’s performance as the worn-down, scarred smartass anti-hero gives it more character and makes it very entertaining.

Miller, one of the most influential people in comics today, makes a cameo during Marv’s story as a priest in a confessional for one scene, much in the way Stan Lee pops up in Marvel Comics films.

Meanwhile, in ‘The Big Fat Kill,’ a wanted man (Clive Owen as Dwight McCarty) who will do anything to escape the law – including surgery – chases a couple of drunks out of his girlfriend’s apartment only to end up in Oldtown, a part of Sin City where hookers rule the streets and enforce their law. One of the girls slaughters the drunks only to discover that one of them is actually a police officer.

To protect an uneasy truce between the cops and the call girls, the lead hooker, Gale (played by Rosario Dawson), assigns Dwight the unenviable task of eliminating the evidence by driving the dead to the city’s tar pits to dispose of their bodies while avoiding the police and other concerned parties. ‘Kill’ is the most violent segment and, not surprisingly, Tarantino co-directed the part. Blood is splattered everywhere as the drunks are disembodied and during the story’s climactic shoot-out.

The final story, ‘That Yellow Bastard,’ begins eight years before the previous two. A well-meaning police veteran working for a corrupt precinct pursues an untouchable child molester and killer – a senator’s son – in order to prevent the brutal slaying of an 11-year-old girl. The officer, Hartigan, struggles through internal politics and his own problematic health only to be betrayed at the very end.

The movie then shifts ahead to present day to find prison-hardened Hartigan again risking everything to save the young woman’s (played by Jessica Alba) life. ‘Bastard’ had the most heart of the three stories, with Hartigan being the most tragic and sympathetic of the characters.All three stories are interesting in their own right and they are made all the more intriguing by “Sin City’s” classic film noir style, especially its use of color. Everything is in black and white with only a few colors appearing on screen. Certain characters’ eyes are colorized, along with cars and blood in certain scenes. The colors offer a nice contrast with the gritty black and white background.

The unique storytelling also helps to bring the graphic novel to life like no other comic book movie has. The three main protagonists all have internal monologues, as comic characters normally do, and they convey the thoughts of each character in a way that most previous graphic novel adaptations have all failed to do.

Miller and Rodriguez’s superb direction and storytelling, along with “Sin City’s” stylish look, make it one of the better films released so far this year.