Sin City (2005)

Starring: Bruce Willis, Mickey Rourke, Benicio Del Toro, Clive Owen, Elijah Wood, Brittany Murphy, Rosario Dawson, Rutger Hauer, Nick Stahl, Powers Boothe, Devon Aoki, Carla Gugino, Alexis Bledel

Directed by: Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller, Quentin Tarantino

Rating: 1 2 3 4 and a half

'If you walk down the right alley in Sin City you can find anything.'
Bruce Willis as Hartigan in Sin City

So runs the tagline for Sin City, the latest offering from everyone's favourite Desperado, Robert Rodriguez. And this time he's teamed up with graphic novelist Frank Miller and the king of retro-violence himself, Mr Quentin Tarantino, to bring us something completely different.

A bit Pulp Fiction, a lot Mickey Spillane, Sin City is nevertheless like nothing you've seen before. Shot almost entirely in stark black and white, aside from the odd startling splash of colour, and overladen by a relentless drawl of film noir voiceovers, it's a living breathing comic book brought to life on the big screen, complete with cheesy, one-liner based dialogue that practically emerges from the mouth in a bubble.

Like Pulp Fiction (only more satisfying, I think), Sin City is a portfolio movie, presenting us with three intertwined tales of death and dark desires in the seedy underworld of the fictional Basin City, played out by a stellar cast of some of Hollywood's finest character actors (plus Clive Owen) in their darkest and sleaziest roles to date.

Clive Owen as Dwight and Benicio Del Toro as Jackie Boy in Sin City

Scar-faced Bruce Willis is Hartigan, a rugged city cop with a dicky ticker, on a one man crusade to save a kidnapped child. Benicio Del Toro is Jackie Boy, a lewd and bullying braggart who refuses to stay dead. Elijah Wood is Kevin, a frankly terrifying cannibalistic hobbit who gives a new meaning to the phrase 'finger lickin' good'. Mickey Rourke is Marv, a psychotic vigilante hitman with a face even more ravaged and mask-like than the mug he usually sports. Rosario Dawson is Gail, an S&M queen in fishnet and leather who rules the seedy streets of the hooker haunted Old Town. Rutger Hauer is Cardinal Roark, a twisted paedophile padre. Jessica Alba is Nancy, a go-go dancer with a heart of gold. you get the picture.

Somehow the tawdry tales of these disparate, desperate souls tangle together to create two hours of super cool, film noir/graphic novel fusion. And just as you're wondering how on earth this web of weirdoes is every going to knit together, the film ends, with a neat twist in the tail worthy of M Night Shyamalan.

Carla Gugino as Lucille and Mickey Rourke as Marv in Sin City

Like the cinematography, the characters are very much black and white - or rather, black and grey, because in Sin City even the good guys aren't exactly what you'd call squeaky clean. Just as we fell for his bruised boxer Butch in Pulp Fiction, so we find ourselves rooting for Bruce Willis's weary yet idealistic cop, although it's Mickey Rourke's monstrous anti-hero who really steals the show. These two aside, it's pretty hard to care much what happens to any of the two-dimensional hard men and hookers (for once Clive Owen's wooden acting doesn't seem out of place), which means you do occasionally find yourself watching from a distance, amazed at the groundbreaking visual effects but emotionally detached from the action.

The action itself, of course, is top notch - nobody directs fight scenes as brilliantly and stylishly as Rodriguez - and, yes, it is ultra violent, although cunningly the worst is left to the imagination. And given what we are allowed to see, the worst must be pretty bad.

Lucille and Marv in Frank Miller's original drawing for Sin City

Whether Sin City is faithful to the graphic novels of Frank Miller, I couldn't tell you. What I can tell you is that Sin City is slick, sick, stylish and sexy; exciting, innovative and surprisingly funny (not least when it's at its most sick) and super, super cool. And, given the current deluge of bilge drowning our multiplexes (Mr and Mrs Smith and The Pacifier? No thank you.), it's a breath of fresh air. Okay, it's a foetid stench from a sleazy sewer. You're gonna love this, baby.

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