Sin City? Absolve Yourself

And pray someone can do better that with newfangled CGI.

By Steve Burgess 4 Apr 2005 | TheTyee.ca

Steve Burgess is a freelance writer and the author of Who Killed Mom?, published in 2011 by Greystone Books.

Born in Norwalk Ohio, home of the famous virus, Steve was raised in Regina, SK, and Brandon, MB. He writes a regular column for The Tyee, often reviewing films but also, sometimes, detailing his hilarious world travels for Tyee readers. Steve is a former CBC Radio host and has won two National Magazine Awards. He has also won three Western Magazine Awards.

Reporting Beat: Travel, pop culture, politics, cobbling, knife sharpening, furnace repair.

Twitter: @steveburgess1

Website: Steve Burgess

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“After awhile all I’m doing is pounding wet chunks of bone into the floorboards.”

If that strikes you as a laugh line, I’ll bet you were sitting behind me Friday night at the Capitol Six. Sin City is one of those disturbing films where the most disturbing thing is the audience. The geeks were all out for opening night, and why not? This is a geek movie. Sin City is not so much a film as a tribute to style, the kind of homage geeks pay to the things they love.

Sin City started as Frank Miller’s nasty comic book vision of crime and sleaze. Since the graphic novels were executed in the manner of film noir classics, it only made sense that they should come full circle. Director Robert Rodriguez has made the screen transfer as faithfully as he could and the results are interesting, at least.

“Guest director” Quentin Tarantino helmed only one scene in the movie, but his stink is all over it. Sin City apes the Pulp Fiction structure of separate stories told sequentially, intertwining as they go (whether Pulp Fiction was a case of Tarantino aping Miller I will let cultural historians decipher). In one story hard-boiled cop Bruce Willis saves a little girl from a creep with big connections. Then in the most successful sequence a nearly-unrecognizable Mickey Rourke (looking very much like that other recent comic book film star, Hellboy) tracks the killer of his favorite hooker. Clive Owen teams up with a bevy of homicidal whores to protect their red-light turf; then Willis is back for the conclusion of his tragic tale. It’s all just as hard-boiled as a petrified egg.

A poke in the CGI

Sin City is the latest in a new generation of CGI movies, created in computers after actors have pranced around in front of blue and green screens. Compared to a tricked-up piece of garbage like Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Sin City is an epic. But that’s a comparison that would make a toilet-paper ad look good.

I am not a big fan of CGI—its siren promise often lures filmmakers onto the rocks. Too often the results resemble Sky Captain’s insipid cocktail of all wizardry and no script (mixed with a few of the howlers that result when actors can’t see what they’re doing. Witness Gwyneth Paltrow in Sky Captain, playing reporter Polly Perkins in an aircraft scene. After a full-screen shot of a huge flashing indicator marked Fuel Warning Light, the allegedly intrepid reporter asks her pilot: “Is that light supposed to be on?”).

Sin City goes for a noirer-than-thou look of stark shadows, white light, and artistic splashes of colour. But that’s not really film noir—it’s comic book. In fact the otherworldly look of Sin City frequently brings to mind not the dark classics of the 40’s, but modern science fiction.

Excess material

More problematic is the essential geek nature of the film. It’s a tribute to a beloved style, and it rolls around in that style like a dog on a dead fish. Just as you’re trying to immerse yourself in the flow, hard-boiled dialogue soars over the top and makes you groan. Action sequences aim for style and excess—always excess. The result makes you wonder if the filmmakers truly love the dark classics like Double Indemnity or The Glass Key. If so, they’ve failed badly—Sin City is far too concerned with surface to capture the experience of those great movies.

As for the guffawing crowd, perhaps they were just exploring the dark connection between the slapstick comedy of the Three Stooges and the ultra-violence of modern comic-book style. I hope in future they’ll explore that connection via DVD, or at least at the matinee.

When not wandering afar, Steve Burgess writes regularly for The Tyee about television and film.  [Tyee]

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