000.jpg (140 K)It took Robert Rodriguez (Spy Kids, Once Upon a Time in Mexico) Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill) and comic book legend, Frank Miller, to faithfully bring Sin City to life. [It was Frank Miller’s vision of Batman in his The Dark Knight Returns that ushered in the first series of Batman movies and his Batman: Year One on which the upcoming Batman Begins leans.] The movie didn’t stop at simply preserving the look of the comic book. Not contenting itself to be a translation from the graphic novel to the silver screen, it transliterated it (if you’ll allow me to use “transliterate” this way). The movie had the feel of simply using the comic book as the story boards and filming it as is (thus earning it’s full title: Frank Miller’s Sin City). There’s a double edged sword of dealing with material beloved by geeks (my term of affectionate for rabid fandom, of which I am a member). On the one hand, if a director stays too faithful to the material, then you go “what’s the point of seeing it if you didn’t do anything with it?” On the other hand, if the director goes with their own vision, reinterpreting or re-imagining the source material, they run the risk of the geek saying “they ruined it.” The key is capturing the spirit of the work without reproducing it, but since reproduction on this scale, in so unique a fashion, hasn’t been done, this movie is landmark.

001.jpg (140 K)For those not familiar with the film noir influenced comic books, this movie is a series of interconnected vignettes all taking place in Basin City, a sewer of a town that collects the dregs of humanity. A morally bankrupt town where men are men and women are dames, broads, or prostitutes. The movie does an admirable job covering a lot of ground, combining the tales found in the graphic novels Sin City, The Big Fat Kill, and That Yellow Bastard, any one of which–Marv’s story especially–would have filled out an entire movie by themselves. Another snag the movie hits by being so slavishly faithful is that carefully crafted dialogue that a reader would easily suspend disbelief for occasionally sounds clunky or stilted to the ear when heard.

002.jpg (150 K)Robert Rodriguez, assuming he hasn’t made a lot of enemies over quitting the Directors Guild over wanting to make Frank Miller his co-director, should earn an Oscar nomination for the visual direction of the movie. It’s a black and white world–and a very wet one at that–with occasional bursts of color, usually blood or a yellow bastard. The individual sets, framed like a comic book panel, contributed to the unusual look of the movie

Being quite familiar with the source material, I don’t know the last time that I saw a movie so perfectly cast. Marv (played perfectly, every bit the lumbering personality, by Mickey Rourke, in the John Travolta in Pulp Fiction role of career resuscitation), Hardigan (Bruce Willis), and Nancy Callahan (Jessica Alba, late of the television show Dark Angel and starring in the upcoming Fantastic Four movie, continues to increase her genre profile) were just as I imagined they would be. Even bit parts were filled out with such luminaries playing Kevin (Elijah Wood in a creepy performance), Jack Rafferty (Benicio Del Toro), Bob (Michael Madsen), and Manute (Michael Duncan Clark). Comic book geeks beware: Frank Miller, himself, plays the priest that has the unfortunate confrontation with Marv.

“Hell is waking up every G-damned day and not know why you’re here.” –Marv

“There’s wrong, there’s wrong, and there’s this.” –Hardigan

017.jpg (108 K)When churches are afraid to talk about sin, leave it to the movies. We all live in Sin City. Everyone has “that cold thing”, as both Marv and Dwight call it, inside them. That calls to them. There’s no judgment in Sin City because all the character know they are sinners so there’s no point in playing the sin game with one another.

Despite the existential worldview that the movies supposes to aim for, Christ can be found. Marv, the hapless goon, and Hardigan, broken-down, retired cop, were the models of Christ in, and the heart of, the movie. This will strike many as absurd, as the movie does not have anything positive to say about clergy. Even in an era of anti-heroes, even in Sin City, there is room for crazy notions such as caring for people, treating poor people the same as rich, and laying down one’s life for one’s friends. This even applies to the Ayn Rand inspired “hero” Dwight, because even he has a “Sir Lancelot/save the damsel in distress” quality to him.

014.jpg (115 K)Like Christ, they believed all people were equal. Sinners felt comfortable around them. Like Christ, they were ugly. For those who cling to the image of Christ with long, flowing locks and smooth (Caucasian) features, they might want to check out Isaiah 53:2-3. Like Christ, they liked to gather up people around them. Jesus lived with people, partied with them, ate with them, drank with them, and walked with them. He surrounded himself with women of base repute.

They were losers.

When the cause was just, they had no fear of action. Christ overturned tables and faced down demons. They saved (or avenged) the innocent. The villains, cowards that they are, prey on the weak, the vulnerable, a
nd those people that no one cares about or will miss. Often, as one character points out, they beat up on women to make themselves feel like men. They were framed for crimes they didn’t commit, because “sometimes the truth doesn’t matter as it ought.” And they paid the price for those crimes.

Marv, Hardigan, and Dwight are hard-boiled heroes. Men in search of redemption, all face points where they have to “prove to your friends that you’re worth a damn. Sometimes that means dying,” thus being wounded for other’s transgressions.

036.jpg (182 K)This movie is not for the faint of heart, nor is the stylized film-making easily consumed. The twisted tales of rage and revenge provide brutal scenes of violence. The actual nudity is brief, the movie, with its endless parade of fishnet clad prostitutes, is sexually charged. Had Tarantino not been a part of things, the movie still has the sensibilities of Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill. An exercise in style that threatens to supplant substance, the movie is visually stunning and demands viewing. If nothing else, it reminds us that our spiritual journeys are relational, not propositional (a matter of following or reciting a formula). The characters live out their beliefs, showing that even in Sin City, love, in the form of self-sacrifice, can be found.

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