For long time, I’ve held a certain interest in the idea of the anthology film. The idea of a film showing several stories tied together by a single premise is a concept I’ve favoured ever since seeing the classic animated sci-fi/fantasy anthology Heavy Metal. Done right, the anthology film can tell stronger stories than a film with a traditionally linear story, and this film definitely nailed it. With the film’s dark, unpretentiously gritty tone and the hard-hitting performance of its characters, the world of Frank Miller’s own comics is viscerally brought to life in a way that hadn’t quite been seen before on screen, or ever will again.
The film is set in Basin City, a fictional city in the American West, where crime, depravity and murder are apparently rampant, but not as much as corruption, which lies at the heart of all three of the film’s main segments (“That Yellow Bastard”, “The Hard Goodbye” and “The Big Fat Kill” respectively). Basin City is apparently run by the corrupt Roark family, who run the city with a tight grip and cover up any criminal activities that indict them in any way.
The film is split into four stories, although two of them are split into two parts across the start and end of the film, making for a total of six segments, the first of which is a proof of concept segment that was made to persuade the writer of the comics to get behind the project. It certainly made for a good way to introduce the film, and one hell of a promotion. The other stories are simply impressive. They evoke a sense of dreary decadence and raw dread in a compelling neo-noir narrative, and one of the tightest of the kind.
Of course, what makes Sin City a great film is its characters – it’s gritty, ugly, mostly amoral characters. The main protagonists – played by Bruce Willis, Mickey Rourke and Clive Owen respectively – narrate their own stories, and in a way, they tell you more about the world they live in than anyone else, and they give powerful performances. Bruce Willis’ character is a white knight in a cesspool striving to do the right thing even if it costed his life, Mickey Rourke’s character is a crass street tough who kills his way to avenging the murder of a prostitute he loved, and Clive Owen’s character is an ordinary man caught up in a war between prostitutes and the mob. These characters are the kind that tell their own tale, and it’s hard not to get drawn into their world. The other characters perform their roles brilliantly as well, some less so than others, but I digress.
The film is also famous for its unique style. It looks like a film noir with a distinct graphic novel style, with only occasional use of colour to draw attention to certain characters. The most common colours you’ll find are black, white and grey, and much of the visual effect comes from stark backgrounds and high contrasts. The visuals are very striking indeed, even though the special effects sometimes suffer because of the film’s style. The film is clearly intended to be a graphic novel on screen, almost like a literal transition from page to film, and for a film to pull this off successfully is amazing. It presented a whole new artistic avenue for film as a medium, at least for its time anyway. There would be other films that tried to imitate the style, but none were as successful in its implementation.
Sin City isn’t for the faint-hearted. It can be unsettling for some, but its unique storytelling is more than worth it. It’s one of the few comic book adaptations that successfully balances style with substances. It was striking, it was dark, it was hard-hitting, it was sometimes disturbing, but above all, it was fun.
- Score: 94%
- Grade: A