Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Sin City

It's hard to describe exactly what Sin City, the movie, is. It's halfway graphic novel, half live action. With an animated background. It's a larger-than-life canvas with violence and sex and cruelty. But what I really think it is, is brilliant.

We watch the denizens of Basin City as they go about their mayhem. Rather than merely watch, however, we plunge into this polluted hole with them, caught up in the fast action and even quicker lines. Each segment is connected by threads that assume we can catch up if we just use our brains.

If you're a sensitive feminist, get over it. Men in Sin City are allowed to get older (just about the age of creator/artist Frank Miller, as it works out), craggy, cruel maybe but mostly kind-hearted -- or at least our heroes are. The men who surround the good guys are the evilest of bad men, and deserve whatever shellacking and dismemberment they get. The women? Sometimes they're there just to make up the pretty wallpaper. Sometimes they're there to show us how evil can look really nice and tempting. Sometimes the women show us what the men fight for, or what they think they're fighting for.

Thank God for the voiceovers. These men don't talk about their feelings. But they have them, and they have reasons for killing. Or at least in Frank Miller's town they do.

The men are fascinating to watch. Marv is played by Mickey Rourke, or at least I think he is. It's hard to see the actor. Mickey inhabits Marv, and throws him up on the screen with great abandon, his head huge and encased in a giant prosthetic. Marv is a simple guy with an ugly mug but a sense of righteousness for those who were kind to him, and he'll be damned if someone hurts the woman he loves. Even if he just met her last night. Following him on his story seems like an honor, a badge of courage for the rest of us who wouldn't last 10 seconds in that horrible bar he inhabits, let alone his world. Bruce Willis is perfect as a detective within one hour of retirement -- just seconds, it seems, from ending a frustrating career when he finds a case he can't let go.

And even the bad guys are watchable. Benicia del Toro defies the two-dimensional trap as Shellie's apologetic stalker with an anger management problem.

The men are fascinating. The women are throwaways. But this is a man's story, and women are Frank Miller's fantasies.

But everyone has a backstory. That's one of the many fascinating ideas behind Sin City. We may not know the backstory, but there are hints. A two-dimensional figure suddenly becomes three- and maybe even more.

The violence is cartoonish in ways, yet visceral in others. Blood is white, yellow....rarely red. We have endless punching, decapitation, cutting off limbs, stabbing, a way to die, you'll see it here. Not for the squeamish. Yet there's a certain sensibility about the violence, a retribution built in. While there's no fairness implied in this dirty city, our heroes make their own justice, make you buy into their way of dealing with the dirt they find.

I would never live in Basin City. But a movie that gives me a glimpse -- no, allows me to live in it, breathe its polluted air -- is a miracle. Thumb's up for Sin City, way up.


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