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Reviews » Theatrical Reviews » Frank Miller's Sin City
Frank Miller's Sin City
Miramax // R // April 1, 2005
Review by Randy Miller III | posted April 3, 2005 | E-mail the Author
"There is no settling down! This is blood for blood and by the gallons.
This is the old days, the bad days, the all-or-nothing days. They're back!"

With such a striking visual style and cinematic atmosphere, it's a surprise that it's taken nearly fifteen years for Frank Miller's Sin City to finally make it to the big screen. 1991 saw the first publication of Miller's vision in the fifth anniversary issue of the Dark Horse Presents anthology, followed by a handful of mini-series as the decade wore on. The first story arc (originally self-titled, now known as The Hard Goodbye) introduced readers to Sin City's most famous lug, Marv. On a violent quest to discover the truth about the murder of a hooker he'd recently spent the night with, Marv quickly killed his way up the ladder. Unfortunately, a silent-but-vicious serial killer would be waiting patiently on the top rung.

Essentially, this first arc is the heart and soul of Sin City---if it has a heart or soul at all. Marv is the core of Miller's most graphic of graphic novels, a take-no-prisoners tough guy (seen below) who loved torturing his victims more than actually killing them. It established memorable characters, set the tone of the stories to follow and, most importantly, created a stunningly dense atmosphere----thanks to the striking black and white visuals by Miller himself. Next up was A Dame To Kill For, a six-part tale following the exploits of one Dwight McCarthy. Dwight would return in The Big Fat Kill, a tightly-woven yarn about territory, loyalty, and finding out how many dead bodies can fit in the trunk of a car.

Miller continued the hot streak with That Yellow Bastard, introducing one of Sin City's most memorable characters. Detective John Hartigan was a burnt-out cop due for retirement who recently rescued an 11-year old girl, Nancy Callahan, from the child-molesting son of a Senator. Framed for several killings and the kidnapping of Nancy, Hartigan bides his time in prison for eight years while the young girl writes letters to keep his spirits up. Upon his eventual release, Hartigan looks for revenge and justice---and just for fun, Nancy's all grown up.

Later stories included Hell And Back and Family Values, the latter of which was a 120+ page monster released in one volume. Miller also wrote several stand-alone stories (or "one-shots") through the years, including The Babe Wore Red and Other Stories, Sex & Violence, and Silent Night (a near-wordless story about the rescue of another young girl, and perhaps the finest example of Miller's striking style). While it's difficult to judge which story is the strongest overall, anyone who flips through a Sin City book can expect one of the grittiest reads in comics. It's certainly not for kids, chock full of graphic violence, nudity and foul language. Directed by Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller and Quentin Tarantino, the first film adaptation of Miller's world is a true exercise in visual flair and atmosphere.

No matter if you're new to the world of Sin City or you've read every issue, words cannot describe the visual quality of this film adaptation. Miller's style has been faithfully represented here, showcasing the series' trademark black and white style---with the occasional hints of color, of course. Through a combination of hard lighting and computer coloring effects, Sin City is easily the most faithful visual reproduction of a comic book to the big screen...ever. Yes, even more so than Spider-Man 2, though a silver medal is nothing to sneeze at.

On the story end, the film packs together three of the series' most famous tales: The Hard Goodbye, The Big Fat Kill and That Yellow Bastard, bookended by The Customer Is Always Right, a short story taken from the pages of The Babe Wore Red (though the film's final moments contain an all-new sequence). Dialogue is near-identical to the source material, and the bulk of the film's visual compositions are faithful reproductions of the original panels (for proof, check out the film-to-book comparison link below). It's as literal a translation as you're likely to see, and the participation of Miller is evident every step of the way. Fans of the series will be thrilled, though newcomers may find the atmosphere a bit tough to get used to---nearly all of the book's violent content is graphically depicted onscreen, making Sin City one of the hardest R-rated films in recent memory. This isn't a complaint, mind you; while the violence will undoubtedly turn off some viewers, it's a necessary part of the original story.

Of course, there's more to appreciate about the film than the visuals. The casting of Sin City is perhaps its second greatest strength---more of an ensemble cast than a star-studded extravaganza, which thankfully prevents the viewer from playing "spot the big-name celebrity" as the film progresses. Notable performances include Bruce Willis as Hartigan in That Yellow Bastard, Mickey Rourke as tough-guy Marv, Elijah Wood as the serial killer of The Hard Goodbye, and Nick Stahl as the Yellow Bastard himself. The music is appropriate (though a bit generic at times), the attention to detail is incredible, and the pacing is very tight.

It's a truly dark experience, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't have a big, fat smile plastered on my face during the bulk of Sin City's two-hour running time. I hadn't read the series in recent years, but the sheer weight of the atmosphere brought back fond memories of the books I enjoyed so much. Because the series has been translated so closely, the film's slight story-related missteps---including the ocassional bit of rough dialogue and a heavy reliance on voice-overs---were all present in the the original source material. I loved the books to death, but I'll have to admit they were't always a perfect read. By and large, though, the original stories packed enough of a wallop to really suck you in---and the same is true of the film. For that alone, many fans should consider Sin City to be one of the most accurate comic book adaptations in film history. It's tough to watch. It's gritty, dark, oppressive, and full of the naughty things our parents warned us about.

Fans of the series wouldn't have it any other way, and neither would I.

With such a successful first effort, one hopes that Miller and company have plans for a future installment. With a few mini-series and one-shots left uncovered, there's plenty more stories to tell in Sin City. There's no doubt in my mind that followers of the graphic novels will eat this one up---and while it's a tough call for newcomers, most fans of Rodriguez or Tarantino should find much to enjoy here. As for Miller, he's done a terrific job bringing his creation to the big screen, as Sin City unquestionably sets a new standard for the true visual integration of comics into film. If nothing else, he's certainly redeemed himself for Robocop 3.


Film Quality: 4.5/5 | Replay Value: 4.5/5 | Overall Rating: Highly Recommended

While it's too early to see know the eventual DVD release has in store, it never hurts to take an educated guess. Rodriguez has already hinted that the film's individual stories will be presented as stand-alone options. There's quite a bit of cut material (for time, not content), so a series of deleted scenes or a Director's Cut will most likely be in the works. Since the comics served as the film's "storyboards", I wouldn't be surprised to see a complete panel-to-screen comparison---or at least a page-by-page gallery of original artwork. It would be great to see new artwork by Frank Miller himself, though I'd settle for an onscreen (or printed) sketchbook. There's a world of possibilities for the packaging, too: here's hoping that Miller's artwork---or a composite of the film's stunning posters---wins out over the usual floating heads. With the attention to detail already seen in the film, though, I'll bet there's great stuff on the horizon. In the meantime, go visit the local comic shop and fill the Sin City gaps in your collection.

Related Link: Comic-to-Screen Comparisons @ Filmrotation.com (18+ only)


Randy Miller III is an art instructor hailing from Harrisburg, PA. To fund his DVD viewing habits, he also works on freelance graphic design and illustration projects. In his free time, Randy enjoys slacking off, general debauchery, and writing things in third person.

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