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Empire Magazine Greatest Movies List - #274: Sin City

If I have one problem with comic book movies in this day and age it’s that they are all so audience-friendly. When Wolverine claws his way through 20 armed gunmen at most he gets one bloody scratch on his face and is allowed to say the word “fuck” only once in the whole movie, otherwise Hollywood loses that precious PG-13 rating. Not so with Robert Rodriguez’ adaptation of Frank Miller’s Sin City (2005) in which, just like in the graphic novels, the characters bleed red, female characters strip butt naked, and male characters curse like they don’t give a fuck. The film is also a gorgeous piece of art, as it is shot in exquisite black and white, except for specific objects and persons that require colour, such a character called The Yellow Bastard.

As it is definitely a movie geared towards the 18-35 male audiences, I first saw Sin City in early 2005 with my brother in Quebec City. Apart from a supporting role in Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003) this my first time seeing Mickey Rourke really explode on the big screen, despite the fact that he had been acting for years. You have to hand it to Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino: these two have a talent for revitalizing the career of an actor who has been mostly left aside by major studios. Other interesting casting fact, the movie featured one of the first roles Elijah Wood took after appearing in the Lord of the Rings trilogy so we really did not expect to see him play a serial killer/cannibal after playing Frodo. Suffice it to say, we had a really good time.

One of the first movies to be shot primarily on a digital back lot, the film follows various shady characters through three interweaving stories in the fictional Basin City. The opening and closing story focuses on ageing cop John Hartigan (Bruce Willis) as he tries to stop child killer Roark Junior (Nick Stahl) from getting to his next victim Nancy Callahan. After being shot in the back by his own partner (Michael Madsen), Hartigan lands in prison while Junior is being cared for by his father, corrupt senator Roark (Powers Booth).

Years later Nancy (Jessica Alba) is all grown up and working as a stripper at a bar where tough guy Marv (Mickey Rourke) meets gorgeous blonde Goldie (Jaime King). They have a one-night stand and the next morning Goldie is lying dead next to him. Sensing a frame-up Marv flees the scene as the cops are closing in and sets on a journey to find Goldie’s killer. By torturing various informants and questioning Goldie’s friends in the red-light district, he learns her killer is protected by cardinal Roark (Rutger Hauer), brother of the senator.

Also at Nancy’s bar there works a waitress called Shellie (the late Brittany Murphy) who is being harassed by her ex-boyfriend Jackie Boy (Benicio Del Toro). At her apartment Shellie’s new boyfriend Dwight (Clive Owen) tells him to back off by shoving his face in an un-flushed toilet. To drive the message home Dwight follows Jackie Boy and his gun-totting friends back to the red-light district, where they harass a prostitute. The ensuing fight threatens the peace between the city’s dirty cops and Gail (Rosario Dawson) the prostitute’s leader.

What a town. Dirty cops taking orders from corrupt church officials, hookers with hearts of gold and loaded guns, brutes that will chop you up and feed you to hungry dogs, and a smoking-hot parole officer played by Carla Gugino. The dialogue is crackling, every single shot feels like it was ripped off Miller’s beautiful pages, and the star-dusted cast look like their having a blast.

Sin City only made a fraction of what The Avengers made, but still why did it take NINE YEARS for there to be a sequel? You can’t throw a rock at movie theatre without a hitting a poster for a comic book movie these days, however it would be great if there were a few more that were aimed at people over the age of 18.     


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