Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Richard Rodriquez and An Eyeful of Sin

Review of Sin City by Phillip Greenlief

If you evaluate Sin City for what it is: a comic-book styled graphic novel on screen replete with pulp plot devices, raw violence and film-noir overtones, it's pretty hard to beat. It's certainly one of the more interesting visual feasts released in recent months.

But if you hold it up to what we tend to expect from top-drawer film noir (unseen plot twists and structural advances from classics like The Big Sleep) or hold it accountable to the psychological studies that are latent in the same genre (the 1949 classic DOA, or any of Fritz Lang's noir efforts), the film falls short. The urge to borrow structurally from Pulp Fiction seems irresistible to Rodriguez, but the shuffling of episodes ultimately plays tedious by the final frame. The director's urge to resolve all the plot elements, while usually satisfying, feels labored. For a movie that runs at 126 minutes, it seems long despite several shocking action sequences and a carnival of cinematic pyrotechnics.

Nonetheless, while Sin City has its problems it could be one of the better films in theaters right now (but pales in comparison next to something like Der Untergang (Downfall) - a new film from Germany about Hitler's final days in the bunker led by Bruno Ganz in one of his finest performances).

Mickey Rourke drops in at Sin City, and delivers a surprisingly satisfying performance as does Elijah Wood (two actors I don't tend to applaud). Rosario Dawson adds some levity to the often overly dank atmosphere and keeps the film from plunging endlessly down underworld lane. She acheives this admirable pursuit while delivering an almost unbearably sexy performance. The remaining barrage of Sin City's characters exist in a cinematic world that rests defiantly outside the gates of "live-animation", and seeks almost desperately to carve new stylistic trails at every turn. If Sin City inherits a genre popluated by earlier efforts like Dick Tracy or Tim Burton's animated works, Rodriquez's howling gem reveals an advance in visual and dramatic intensity. The recent rekindling of a fascination between young people and animated films notwithstanding, parents will sleep more easily having resisted bringing young children to this rodeo of sex, torture, cannibalism and graphic murder.

To sum things up, while the film is one of the most stunning visual creations in recent years, the story and the character development lack the depth and attention to detail inherent in the aforementioned astonishing imagery. But if viewers are in the market for pure entertainment that is violence-soaked, but thanks to the animated quality of the film resists being overly heavy handed and overwrought, Sin City is a movie that deserves your attention.


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