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25 April 2006

Sin City (2005)

Bruce Willis (Hartigan), Clive Owen (Dwight), Mickey Rourke (Marv), Jessica Alba (Nancy)

Directed by Robert Rodriguez (Desperado) & Frank Miller

From IMDB: "A collection of interweaving stories all based in the corrupt, crime infested hell-hole that is Basin City. Heavily influenced by film-noir, the main storylines concern a hulking brute called Marv who seeks the murderer of a beautiful woman who was killed while asleep in bed with him, an ex-photographer called Dwight who accidentally kills a hero cop and has to cover it up, and a soon-to-be-retiring policeman called Hartigan who is incarcerated for a crime he did not commit. Based on the graphic novels Sin City, The Big Fat Kill and That Yellow Bastard, written and illustrated by Frank Miller."

How shall I begin? Should I start with an irate discussion about the subjugation, abuse, objectification, and idolization of women? If I did, I would certainly have enough material to compose a treatise, let alone one little blog entry.

Maybe just a small taste: while the women were generally benevolent characters, (benevolent as observed and defined by the three male narrators), the film's repeated motifs of female characterization was that of bad girls with a good heart or good girls who liked things a bit rough. Rosario Dawson's dominatrix / Amazon / queen hooker was the most overtly powerful woman - if power is defined as influence over one's peers and the ability to perpetrate violence - but even she is slapped, kidnapped, and stripped of her individualism by Dwight's references to his "woman warrior" and his "Valkyrie," thus transforming a woman into a myth. The character of Goldie - another hooker - is equally mythologized when Marv refers to her as "the goddess" and "the perfect woman," and Hartigan practically beatifies his "little Nancy Callahan" - a stripper.

These women are reduced and objectified based upon their own characteristics and their relationships with the protagonists, while Wendy - Goldie's twin - is not even allowed that personal nicety. Instead, Marv repeatedly mistakes her for her sister and, at the conclusion of his vignette, she even encourages him to do so. While the character of Kevin (finally someone else realized that Elijah Wood is a little creepy and deserves to play a sick-o) eat his victims, and while the character of young Roark / the Yellow Bastard abuses, rapes, and kills women, even the heroes participate in this systematic, rampant destruction of female individuality and autonomy.

And the guns + lingerie imagery was just SO obviously a comic fan-boy's favorite sort of wet dream.

Ah, but all of that is obvious. What if I had started, instead, with a discussion about the trivialization of violence and the directors' sensational portrayals of horrific scenarios? No less obvious, I admit, but worth exploring. Drawing, perhaps, from the example of Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (he was credited as "Special Guest Director" for Sin City), Rodriguez and Miller chose to render certain scenes - particularly the most gruesome - in block silhouettes, thus reducing the amount of detail available to the viewer. In other scenes, blood was colored white or black, making it look like a smudge of light or a shadow instead of a flaring stain of genuine, gut-wrenching color. These techniques cheapened the impact of violence, thereby permitting an increase in the amount of violence.

That, and bullets never seemed to do their job against the heroes. They were sieves!

And what of the huge cast? Briefly:
  • Bruce Willis plays a man in his 60s. Giggle.
  • Jessica Alba shares a common tie with Jennifer Lopez: shut up and dance. Or just shut up.
  • What was up with Clive Owen's accent?
  • Benicio Del Toro looked like some mangled cross between Eric Roberts and Antonio Banderas while all of his charisma was sucked away by malevolent forces.
  • Brittany Murphy has changed a great deal since Clueless, and her noir melodrama was so tongue-and-cheek that - by making fun of her damsel role - she alone seemed to transcend the rampant erotic conceptualization of women.
  • Josh Hartnett, in his brief appearance, was charming and intriguing rather than his usual stupefied and dull.
  • Mickey Rourke is as creepy as ever, just for different reasons.
  • The Spy Kids mama is hot. See? This damn flick just inspires the objectification of women.
All that said, I alternated between entertained and bored, but I should think that Miller fans and noir buffs will be happy.

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