Thursday, March 17, 2005

So I saw Sin City. 

(Disclaimer: Though I saw a press screening of Sin City yesterday morning, previews on TV still say the movie is "not yet rated." I may not have seen the final cut. I can do a professional review, but I'm not really in the mood. So you get this instead.)

People are worried. They worry that Sin City will be laughed out of the theatre. That the "muppet makeup" will be a turnoff, or that the spot coloring will make people groan. They are concerned that the movie will take itself too seriously. In short, people are concerned Sin City will bring shame down on our houses and scuttle comics back into the dark for another 40 year stretch.

It does none of these things.

It's a fun fucking movie, all the way around, beginning to end. The opening scene introduces us to the voice-over storytelling and the spot-coloring right off the bat, and I got no sense from the audience that they were turned off by it. I sunk right in, and so did they.

What struck me the most is how funny the movie is. Dark, dark comedy to be sure, very morbid, with a preponderance for severed heads and toilet-head dunkings (expect that to be mentioned in every single review of the movie), but very fucking funny. At ease, Mike. There isn't a second that this movie thinks it's a "serious" exploration of noir themes. All the hallmarks of the genre are there, the breathy words and elaborate prose and hard language and guns and blood, but Sin City has more in common with Miller's Hard Boiled than it does with, I dunno, his street-stories-by-way-of-spandex Daredevil.

The makeup causes no disconnect. My buddy Joe commented that when Marv walks on the screen, you know it's a Frank Miller character: he's got all the angles, all the muscle, all the domineering physical presence of a Miller hero. He fits. He works. When That Yellow Bastard first appears in all his jaundiced glory, the audience did not withdraw; rather, people gasped in shock or fear. He's a menacing, sickly, and slightly pathetic figure, just as he should be.

What ultimately wins out for the movie is the long middle segment based on The Big Fat Kill, starring Clive Owen as Dwight, Rosario Dawson as Gail, and Benicio Del Toro as Jackie Boy. Owen's a favorite actor of mine, and Mike Hodges would be all too eager to tell you that he's a perfect lead for any kind of noir, straight-faced or tongue-in-cheek. He elevates some already pretty fucking entertaining material to the point where the Big Fat Kill segment would be a vastly entertaining movie on its own. (And who knew Brittany Murphy could act?)

There are flaws, as there are in any Rodriguez movie. It takes a long time for energy to build up, which is strange considering how kinetic the source material is, and how notoriously hyperactive Rodriguez movies are. Some of the actors -- notably Michael Madsen and Josh Hartnett, but then, it's Josh Hartnett -- just can't seem to get their mouths around the dialogue or their minds past the green screen. In the Marv material particularly, the passage of time is a little sloppy. Comics action relies a lot on inference, and movies, for better or worse, are used to leading their audiences around by the nose. Rodriguez chooses to shoot the Marv action almost exactly as it happens in the comic, and the audience is forced to make mental leaps and draw connections (where did that gun come from? oh, right, from 45 seconds ago), which can be disorienting when trying to keep up with fast-paced action.

The audience was surprisingly diverse. The gender split seemed to be 50/50, and the age range covered the spectrum. When the credits hit, half the audience applauded, and EVERYONE was chattering. Loudly. Passionately, love or hate. I'm guessing the movie'll get a B- average across the critical spectrum and do modest box office, but I learned what I needed to know from that applause. People are ready for this.

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