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Sin City takes film noir to the
depths of mediocrity

Sin City (2005)
Director: Robert Rodriguez


People are tired of stale story lines and overacting in
movies, and understandably so. Even supposed thrillers
that are meant to shock you in the end have become
predictable (for the love of God, I called
Mystic River
within the first fifteen minutes, and every M. Night
Shyamalan film, too). But there is a trend in the film world
that is picking up steam – and it’s just as embarrassing
as poor writing and generic plot lines. People have
started to believe that if something is new and different, it
must be good.

A perfect example of this would be, you guessed it, Frank
Miller and Robert Rodriguez’s “masterpiece”
Sin City.
This film is essentially a throwback to the film noir craze
of the 1940s, complete with stylized violence and
womanizing. But before you start thinking of me as a
pansy or a feminist for hating this film, let’s break down
all the ways it fails to accomplish anything it should have.
First, let’s talk about acting. In classic film noir, there is the essential character of the femme fatale – that
beautiful bombshell seductress who can manipulate any man with a flutter of lashes. A handful of feminists
have criticized these characters for their generic female attributes, or have said that this kind of portrayal of one-
dimensional women is offensive. Truthfully, however, every character in noir is a stereotype. The men don’t come
across any better than the women do – they’re all violent, dominated by their dicks and a sense of machismo to
the bitter end. But the femme fatale is meant to be one hell of a woman, and nobody in
Sin City manages that
role. Are we really going to compare Brittany Murphy to Rita Hayworth? That high-strung joke of a leading lady
can’t hold a candle to the bombshells of the ’40s. Why not? Because she doesn’t have any strength to her
whining. The femme fatales of original film noir were supposed to have power behind their simpering. Alexis
Bledel has the looks for the part, but her voice is weak in it. She manages to betray everyone just the way a
femme fatale should, but she doesn’t do it with nearly enough conviction. And while Rosario Dawson pulls off
the tough as nails exterior, she just doesn’t have the sex appeal or the femininity for the part. And Jessica Alba?
She’s hot, but there’s nothing else to her. She whines, and whimpers, and wishes to be strong – and keeps
failing. The only person who is believable as a 1940s screen queen is Jaime King, and unfortunately her
performance isn’t prominent enough to pull our ladies out of the gutter. It’s necessary to give this film props for
attempting to portray strong and independent leading ladies, but the script’s best intentions are thwarted by
abysmal casting.

So, lets move on to the men. Bruce Willis is our typical gumshoe, and he definitely looks the part. The aging,
masculine cop is so perfectly depicted that you can almost smell the stench of sweat and self-righteousness
pouring off him. But Willis clearly isn’t confident in the role, and he keeps second-guessing his voice-over
monologues. Every time Willis speaks, it seemed so self-conscious that I stopped believing him as a macho
hero – a necessary element of any noir. The villains aren’t so much terrifying as hilarious. Nick Stahl becomes a
glorified muppet by the end of the movie, and it’s impossible not to laugh at him. Elijah Wood, too, is humorous
with his glaring glasses and kid sneakers. But these caricatures are supposed to represent evil and power – not
humor and poorly designed effects. The villains here are in direct keeping with the characters in Miller’s comics,
but some things don’t translate well to the screen. While these characters worked in ink, on film they’re just too
corny to be threatening. And Mickey Rourke, too, has such poorly done makeup that his entire performance is
thrown off as you wonder when his face will ever actually show expression. These characters are supposed to
show the darker side of human beings, and instead they cop out by making these people monsters. Miller
managed to tread that line in his comics, but in the movie, it’s easy to ignore the themes these people represent
in everyday life in favor of interpreting the piece as glorified fantasy.

Perhaps what’s most shameful about this movie, however, is the gimmicky imagery of it. In an attempt to
differentiate this “noir” from the original genre, the directors decided to add bursts of color to the scenes.
Besides having been done before (and in another Bruce Willis movie too – anyone remember
The Sixth Sense?)
this use of color seems cheap. Color is the obvious choice for differentiation here, and perhaps a use of pure
black and white would have made more of a statement. The variation here almost makes this a film gris, and if
the directors are so insistent in keeping with the genre, perhaps they should actually do so correctly.

Originally, when I tried to figure out why I hated this film, I thought the violence was what did it in. The truth is that
the violence wasn’t the issue. The overuse of grotesque gore bothered me, it’s true, but it was supposed to. I
wouldn’t be human if I wasn’t at least a little disturbed by excessive death, even if it is obviously fake. This movie
bothered me because of how far it deviated from the traditional film noir. And while the film kept the story of the
comics almost perfectly, it didn’t keep the tone of them. And as a fan of the comics, I feel safe in calling that
sinful. If you’re looking for a mediocre revival of a classic genre, feel free to check out
Sin City. But if you’re
looking for real noir, check out
White Heat from 1949. And don’t forget to check out Miller’s graphic novels, those
won’t be a disappointment.

hile Rachel hated this movie, Jim Carolus loved it. What did you think?