“Sin City” reminds me of one of Billy Preston’s songs, “Will It Go ‘Round in Circles.” “I got a story, ain’t got no moral,” go the lyrics. “Let the bad guy win every once in a while.”
“Sin City” has no moral direction either, and its bad guys win all the time.
Robert Rodriguez, who directed the “Spy Kids” series, brings Frank Miller’s graphic novels to the screen. While “Spy Kids” is family friendly, “Sin City” is anything but family fare. It somehow skirts the NC-17 rating to earn a hard R with scenes of sex and ultra violence.
That said, “Sin City” is not so much one story as it is three stories from Miller’s series. No narrative thread holds the movie together—only the place, Sin City, where all are sinners and certainly act like it.
“Sin City” is an amped-up film noir—think Mickey Spillane on human-growth hormone. All characters are bad in some way or another, and they’re separated only by their degree of badness.
In one of the stories, Bruce Willis is Hartigan, a cop who isn’t afraid to be judge, jury and executioner if the situation dictates. He winds up on the wrong side of a case and ends up framed and in prison.
Disgraced, he plays along with the powers that be in order to be released and protect the innocent girl in the case. The girl (Jessica Alba) has become one of Sin City’s featured strippers.
The villain is the son of a senator, who can do what he pleases because someone will always cover up his sin and crime. Power and lying go hand in hand in “Sin City,” where cynicism rules. The film offers no real justice or redemption, just an uncomfortable end.
“Sin City” was filmed in black and white, with accents of color, following the style of Miller’s graphic novels. Rodriguez didn’t storyboard the movie; he took the actual graphic novels and filmed them. Miller is thus credited as a co-director.
The black and white is no accident, providing contrast for character action. The characters rely on ambiguity and situational ethics, and these are played out on the stark and unflinching palette.
We may think the world is black and white, good and evil, right and wrong, Miller seems to say, but that’s simplistic. For Miller, the world knows no right or wrong. Bad things happen not just to good people, but to all people.
Every stratum of “Sin City” is rotten. When the movie ends, there is no redemption—only the continued sin of those who live on its mean streets. And when all is said and done, the Psalmist rules the day: “They have all fallen away, they are all alike perverse; there is no one who does good, no, not one.”
Mike Parnell is pastor of Beth Car Baptist Church in Halifax, Va.
MPAA Rating: R for sustained strong stylized violence, nudity and sexual content including dialogue. Reviewer’s Note: “SinCity” is the most extreme R-rated movie that has been released in recent memory.
Directors: Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller
Writer: Frank Miller (based on his graphic novel series)
Cast: Hartigan: Bruce Willis; Nancy: Jessica Alba; Rourk Jr: Nick Stahl; Marv: Mickey Rourke; Sen. Rourk: Powers Boothe; Cardinal Rourk: Rutger Hauer; Kevin: Elijah Wood; Gail: Rosario Dawson; Dwight: Clive Owen; Jackie Boy: Benicio Del Toro.
The movie’s official Web site is here.