Power and Evil in Sin City

As a young teenager I enjoyed reading comic books, and though I slowed my consumption to zero for several years and have only really read one recently, I'll go on record and say that The Age of Apocalypse was one of the most badass episodes in the history of entertainment (Astonishing X-Men being the highlight). I've admired the character of Spider-Man, been awed by Batman, and recently gotten a kick out of The Air Pirates. I enjoyed both Spider-Man movies (Kirsten Dunst with red hair helped, I admit) and look forward to the Batman prequel.

One comic miniseries I enjoyed immensely was The Dark Knight Returns, a fantastic story created by Frank Miller. Here was a dark and gritty tale fitting for the character, and unlike previous Batman stories it was geared toward adults. This was not the beginning of the era of comics for adults, but it was one of the high points. Another of Frank Miller's babies was well received by adult comic book readers, well enough to have been turned into a movie, Sin City.

The movie, like the comic books, is not for children. Based as it is on several different comic stories all set in the same city, the movie has several barely-related storylines, but they all form part of the larger narrative of life in Basin City, elevation 700 feet. Most of its female characters are prostitutes, most of its male characters are killers or thugs of some kind. It is very dark and violent. But because of all the unsavoriness of the fictional Sin City and its inhabitants, it is very entertaining, and it even has an embedded lesson or two about power.

But before I get too far into discussion of the content, I should talk about the style. I enjoyed the look and feel of this movie quite a bit. It is mostly in black and white, with occasional bits of color. A pair of blue eyes here, a pair of red shoes there, rather like a twisted and evil Pleasantville. It is vaguely 30s-ish, with art deco influences and old cars, but with modern guns, explosives, and lingerie. This stylized portrayal is punctuated with two-tone comic book scenes, usually with the dual effect of increasing the fantasy feel of the scene and pleasing the movie rating people.[1] The acting is right on in the best instances and tolerable in the worst. The co-direction of Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez sets the tone exactly as it should be.

Back to content. Though the protagonists are rough characters and/or criminals, they never screw anybody who doesn't have it coming. The antagonists, on the other hand, are powerful men, often government authorities, and seem to screw people every chance they get. There is Borgia-esque Cardinal Roark, his brother Senator Roark, and Senator Roark's demented child-raping son. There is a twisted abusive cop with his supporting gang of thugs. There is the Sin City police and prison force that goes along with the Roarks' schemes and the D.A. who cares nothing about justice.

Bruce Willis plays a good police officer who tries to stop a notorious child killer, but who is made to be the fall guy while the killer runs free. So much for the public interest. Mickey Rourke's character tries to resist being made a fall guy in a different psycho-killer scheme and has to kill what seems like dozens of faceless characters so that they don't kill him first. We're introduced to the band of prostitutes who run a city district by themselves, into which the police don't go and which they defend with an impressive array of weapons. This band is portrayed sympathetically, and it's clear that while they're not perfect, they are the ones you root for against the police and the mob.

I hate spoilers as much as the next guy, so if you haven't seen it yet I'll recommend it and let you take it from there. What doesn't hurt to know is that Sin City is run by malign characters who are absolutely corrupted with power and who make no apologies for it. It's hard to be a good guy in this town.

Incidentally, Happy Birthday to Jessica Alba, who is unbelievably hot in this movie and elsewhere and turns 24 today.

fn1. The movie is rated R in the USA but is very close to NC-17. According to IMDB, it's banned in Malaysia. (Now that I check that category in IMDB, I see that getting banned in Malaysia must not be very difficult: along with the violent Scarface and the racy Vagina Monologues are banned Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers and The Geena Davis Show.)

Share this

Sin City Randall McElroy has

Sin City
Randall McElroy has a worthwhile post on the film up at Catallarchy right now.

I saw Sin City a while back and was thoroughly impressed - it's an excellent adaptation of Miller's dark comic and stands on its own quite well as a film. I know some ...

I thought the movie was

I thought the movie was good, not great. I thought the pacing was kinda slow, especially with the third story and not enough Alba grinding on poles. Other than that, good flick.

To me, the Sin City stories

To me, the Sin City stories sounded like something out of an ancient epic, particularly in Marv's story. You've got the heroic titan hero, plowing through the minions of his enemy -- the enemy who killed his woman. It felt like Gilgamesh, The Illiad or Beowulf to me, right down to the blood/guts and female skin you know those old bards loved to throw in. Miller even gives Dwight dialogue to the effect: "I think Marv would be happier on some ancient battlefield, swinging his axe at his foe"

Some of the Sin City stories that didn't make it into the movie only reinforce that view.

I imagine you'll get more comments now that you've added the pictures. :)

What a coincidence, a friend

What a coincidence, a friend sent me this link yesterday: The Libertarian Message of Squadron Supreme.

I probably just drove demand for this up and the bid on it I have isn't over yet. :wink:

I agree, I loved Sin

I agree, I loved Sin City.

"The movie, like the comic books, is not for children."

For some reason, that didn't stop me seeing some couple bring their eight year old. I was stunned. You'd think the kid would have some questions about the movie that the parents wouldn't want to answer.

It certainly had some great messages.