Sin City must be one, because nothing else could be so fascinating, so captivating, and so entertaining.
I am not a film noir fan. In fact, I usually get bored easily by that genre. My wife is the noir devote, and the only reason I went to see this film was because she didn't want to go alone. This is yet another in a long line of things I an now indebted to her for, because this was, quite simply, amazing. And amazing on so many different levels I hardly know where to begin.
Let's begin with how the film looks. Right away, you're introduced to the visual feel of the film, one of dark and gritty black and white with splashes of color thrown in like grace notes in jazz, to highlight the tune and keep your attention. This film is an awash in argentonian colors: reds, blues, greens, and yellows, all pure, all bright, all stark. Whether it's a woman's dress, the lights of passing cars, or the various shades blood becomes, you soon become attuned to the importance of a color in a scene, and to the messages the directors are sending through it. Due to this directorial trifecta, and the visual layering they use, Sin City has discovered a whole new shade of dark. This is Frank Miller's graphic novel come to life in a way that was never before possible.
And yes, I did say directors, not director. Robert Rodriquez and Frank Miller both get directing credits, and Quentin Tarantino gets a "special guest director" nod. Between them, this film takes the gritty, stylized, noir genre and explodes it to epic proportions, jumping from story to story, different characters in different parts of the city, only to tie them together in the loosest, tangential sort of way, just enough to let you know that all the different stories are intertwined just enough to be in the same film.
The cast is almost too heavy to mention individually. You have the good guys, like Bruce Willis' John Hartigan, the last good cop on the force, and Jessica Alba's golden-hearted girl Nancy Callahan. You also have the bad guys like Nick Stahl's Junior, and Powers Boothe's Senator Roark. Stahl was the lead in Terminator 3, and stars as Ben Hawkwins in the hit HBO series Carnivale, but this is his first time as a flat-out villain, and I'll never be able to look at him quite same way again. Or the color yellow for that matter. And in an odd connection, Boothe plays Cy Tolliver on the other hit HBO series Deadwood. Interesting, yes?
Then you have everyone who is morally ambiguous, somewhere between sheer good and stark evil. Elijah Wood's warped "Charlie Brown"-ish Kevin. Rosario Dawson's violently sexy Gail. Benecio Del Toro's misogynistic Jack Rafferty. Josh Hartnett's suave, sophisticated, delicate, deadly Salesman. Michael Madsen's corrupt-but-not-quite-all-the-way cop Bob. Jaime King's delicious duality as Goldie. Clive Owen as the savior of the barmaid-and-hooker-crowd, Dwight.
But then... then there is one performance that stands out above all the rest. I had read that Mickey Rourke was in the film, and I was waiting to see him. Waiting... waiting... waiting... it wasn't until the end, when the credits ran, that I realized that I had seen him, and rooted like crazy for him, without ever realizing who he was. This is, hands-down, the best acting job Rourke has done to date, at least that I've seen, and this is the best damned character in the film. And I mean that literally... he is damned from the moment we lay eyes on him, but he is still the most memorable character, with Willis' Hartigan running a close second.
From a cinematography point-of-view, and a special-effects standpoint, this movie does some incredible things. The shots chosen are like fine paintings... each choice beautiful, and yet only a brushstroke in a larger masterpiece. The special effects, however, are more vivid than perhaps any film I've seen, and yet are some of the least intrusive at the same time. The only instances where the CGI leapt off the screen and jolted me out of the story were the two or three scenes of cars grabbing air coming over the tops of hills. Other than that, there's nothing to assault your senses, at least once you accept the occasional-color-scheme of the film. Once you fall into the story, or stories rather, you don't surface. When the film ends, you're wondering how 125 minutes could be so short, certain there must be more, that the credits must be some sick joke being played on you by the theatre owner.
I judge a movie these days on two things: Is the soundtrack something I want to own, and will I buy this film when it comes out on DVD. The music, written by John Debney, Graeme Revell, and Robert Rodriguez, compliments the film like fine satin compliments a beautiful woman. It glides over and under the action, never bunching or calling attention to itself, merely enhancing the beauty of what lies above or underneath. Thus, one word serves to answer both questions: Yes. My prediction is that this film will begin a new trend in noir cinema, a new noir film cycle if you will, and will inspire a generation of future filmmakers to think outside the standard Hollywood box. It will also inspire a new genre of special effects technology, one that can be interspersed throughout, and fully integrated into, a narrative so as to successfully compliment it instead of rising to lucasian heights of distraction.
This film gets a stunned, bewildered, and very very impressed A+. Although I've been out of the game for some time, rest assured I haven't forgotten what bad film looks like, and after today, even the better films look lighter, but not in a brighter sort of way, rather in a less-substantial sort of way. Sin City, on the other hand, looks only darker. A whole new shade of darker.