Rodriguez hunted down Sin City's comic-book
author/artist Frank Miller 'like a dog'. As a film-maker with
a huge respect for his source material, Rodriguez insisted
(after he seduced Miller with a scene from what would become Sin City, the movie) that Miller take a co-director's
job and credit to retain the integrity of his own work. It
was a bold move, an extraordinarily big, open-hearted move
for an established DGA member to take. The DGA ( also known
as the Directors Guild of America) promptly pointed at their
weighty tome of rules and decreed that Rodriguez would not
be allowed to partner a first time director. So faced with
an intractable rule, Rodriguez did the noble thing. He quit
the DGA. Miller was suitably impressed. Everything Rodriguez
does seems to qualify for outsider sainthood. The man seems
to have the ego of a runt garden pea and yet is a hugely successful
feature film director. Usually, the 'ego-less director' is
an oxymoron of prodigious size.
make-a-movie-for-$7,000 man, Robert Rodriguez, is an inspiration
to all outsiders. Depending on your point of view, he's either
the digital, indie polymath whose working methods are becoming
the blueprint for all future film production or his is the
extraordinary talent that makes the mild mannered seethe with
focussed rage. How can one man be so bloody talented? He shot,
cut, supervised visual effects, composed music for, and co-directed Sin City, a literal movie-as-comic book.
His links to Tarantino (a guest director on Sin City)
and the whole iconic cinema of the current 'hip' has been
well documented. His Spy Kids trilogy, a
short but welcome blip on the ammo, horror and the gore flicks,
reveal the man's prodigious command of the strangest of genre
bedfellows. But he has returned to the darkness and with a
visual flourish that caresses your eyes as much as the content
exhorts them to close. There are scenes on display here that
will change the way you will ever see Lord of the
Rings again. And no, I'm not giving away just what
kind of a creature Elijah Wood plays. But Frodo, he ain't.
Let's just say that if a giant eagle were to swoop down and
pick him up from his eventual fate, it wouldn't have to have
been a very strong bird…
shot the whole of the movie against green screens and then
proceeded to create the sets digitally after principal photography.
I predict that this will become the benchmark, the 'way' in
which movies will evolve. It may not suit some actors (but
they are actors, they only pretend after all) but the talent
on display here really connected. Despite the artificiality
in actual production, the characters are there - in place,
for real and perfectly integrated into their Frankmillerverse.
And what a 'verse it is… Pure black poetry.
first time a comic book truly shocked me was the Alan Moore
penned The Killing Joke. It was the bastard
son of the newly resurrected The Dark Knight Returns putting the twisted man back into Batman and featured a scene
that would certainly not soil Adam West's Batverse, nor Tim
Burton's muscular, playful take on the franchise. Hell, I'd
be surprised if it fit in any universe but Frank Miller's.
To say his take is a dark, adult one on any characters thrust
before him would be like 'duh'. But what's so wonderfully
surprising is that the moral tone of his piece is never in
any doubt. You know right from wrong in Miller's worlds just
as the sleaziest characters do. Redemption is never too far
away even if it's ultimate and occasionally wet. Rodriguez
and Miller have made a literal comic book movie and they have
made the most original film of the summer. So far. I can't
even see the new Batman rocking Rodriguez's
with gloriously ambivalent characters, Sin City slinks out from behind the summer curtain and screams, spittle
flecking your eyelashes, 'This is a voice!' and to Rodriguez's
credit, it's Miller's own voice. Harsh, grating, entertaining
and full of grisly humour it is too. Much like Pulp
Fiction, Sin City interweaves three
of Miller's tales book-ending with a denouement to the first.
Linear progression is effortlessly toyed with and despite
the differences in the three stories' narratives, you never
get the impression that the movie is an episodic ramble. The
mise-en-scene is Miller's comic come to life so much so that
95 percent of it is in glorious black and white. The colour
comes every so often emphasizing certain details (eyes, blood,
venality). The most heinous villain of the piece (the yellow
bastard) is, well, yellow, the colour of putrid stench and
his skin stinks of evil. When good eventually triumphs over
this evil, it is executed (ouch) in such a way to make you
really wince. I don't think a character has met his end in
a movie in such a jaw dropping (or jaw-pulping), almost lustful
manner - that is if you don't count the grisly demise of another
villain just forty minutes earlier.
actors and ipso facto, the characters - about whom you really
care - are superbly cast. One wonders if Rodriguez's and Miller's
yardstick was how good they look in black and white. Bruce
Willis' Hartigan (an older man in the comic book) is the hard
nosed, good cop who wants to retire but only after delivering
justice to those who flaunt their political power, a power
that handcuffs the cops into turning a blind eye. Roark Jnr.
(Nick Stahl) is the son of a powerful senator played with
the perfect pitch of dominance by the aptly named Powers Boothe.
His son is also a child-raping pedophile whose depths of evil
seem to be bottomless. Hartigan, against the wishes of his
partner, decides that justice must out and hunts down Roark
Jnr. saving ten-year old Nancy in the process. After blowing
off Roark's hand and shooting off his genitals (this is rough
justice, Sin City style), Hartigan is, too, left for dead,
a life for a life. Seemingly finished with this story, we
move on to Marv.
There aren't many actors that can blow William Hurt off the
screen. In Body Heat, Lawrence Kasdan's southern, sweat soaked,
steamy film noir, William Hurt plays a man hypnotised into
killing by the ultimate femme fatale, Kathleen Turner. He
turns to a man he once put away for some nefarious advice.
Sitting on the top bunk of his cell, Mickey Rourke, in a five
minute scene with Hurt, acts him under the table. Rourke makes
such an extraordinary impression that you spend the next ten
minutes of the movie hoping he comes back into it. Alas no.
Rourke's breakthrough film was Barry Levinson's Diner. I use
breakthrough literally as anyone who's seen this wonderful,
small scale character piece will know. It was his 'pecker'
that did the breaking through a popcorn box. In the late eighties
and nineties, Rourke fell off the Hollywood map, having reconstructive
surgery after returning to boxing. His spell as a mechanic
grounded him and he now seems to be making superlative inroads
back to a career once partnered with youthful excess, a career
that derailed him.
Rourke's Marv is under a great deal of prosthetic make up
but still the character comes alive. Marv is the ultimate
tough guy, a warrior of another age let loose in Sin City,
an anachronism with almost superhuman strength and a black
and white moral streak welded to a righteous sadism that is
as adventurous as it is obscene. He's also a man framed for
a murder, a murder he did not commit and one he wants to avenge.
Boy, does this guy avenge. He could avenge for his country.
By Grabbthar's hammer, this guy could avenge. His relentless
pursuit of the wrongdoers (that's almost too prissy a word
for those monsters in Sin City) doesn't preclude some questioning
along the way but once he has convinced the murdered girl's
sister that he's on her side, the shopping list items he subsequently
picks up makes you just know that someone is going to have
a very bad night. Frodo, Mount Doom was nothing to Marv. If
there were really justice in the world, Rourke should be nominated
for something. Best Bastard…
so to Bastard No. 2. Take a look at the skinny, whippet assassin
in the Bond movie Licence To Kill. That is,
was, Benicio Del Toro. Look at this venal officer of the law
in Sin City and he is barely recognisable.
Benicio has changed in all the right ways. Even as a corpse,
he plays it to the hilt. OK, we don't like him because he
is a drunkard bully who slaps his girlfriend about. He is
subsequently invited to drown in his own piss by a reformed
murderer played with conviction by Clive Owen. Here Owen is
heroic and utterly at home in black and white. After Del Toro
falls (at the hands of a totally unbelievable female assassin
even by Sin City's standards BUT - by now - WHO CARES?) the
delicate balance between the cop world and the girls who enforce
their own patch falls to pieces. There seems to be only one
way out. By far the more far fetched of the triple narrative,
there is still something wonderfully grand guignol about the
resolution of the third tale. Despite it coming third in terms
of a league table of entertainment within the movie, it's
still gloriously entertaining.
And so to the resolution of Hartigan's story. Willis wakes
up in hospital to be told (by Mr. Power, Powers Boothe) that
because he shot off his son's reproductive organs, he will
now be kept alive as the publicly assumed child rapist and
will live to be hated and discarded by society. The power
monger gains his own revenge by turning good to perceived
bad. Still protecting Nancy, Willis accepts the ruling and
goes to prison. A glimmer of hope is Nancy's weekly letters.
Only when Willis mistakenly realises that Nancy must have
been detected by her assailants (via a severed finger through
the post), he vows to find her and protect her from harm.
Well, surprise, surprise (no, it really is). Roark Jnr. has
been granted a new set of genitals (money, tchah) and as a
yellow bastard freak he manages to snare Nancy (now Jessica
Alba, a sexy, independent pole dancer) and literally whip
her into submission.
How does the naked, hanging by his neck Hartigan get out of
this predicament? Check it out. Robert Roderiguez and Frank
Miller; I salute you.