March 22, 2015
Sin City (2005)
Grade: 52/100

Director: Robert Rodriguez
Stars: Bruce Willis, Jessica Alba, Mickey Rourke

What it's about. Three major stories somewhat overlap. The main coarse is a scarred-up tough guy (Mickey Rourke) out to avenge the hottie prostitute (Jaime King) who has been murdered in his bed. The trail ultimately leads to cannibal Elijah Wood and power broker Rutger Hauer. They are murdered, and Rourke is electrocuted.

Another tall tale involves Bruce Willis, out to stop Nick Stahl from murdering defenseless child Makenzie Vega. He succeeds, but is imprisoned for years, until he makes a confession that benefits Powers Boothe, Stahl's evil father.

Vega grows up to become Jessica Alba. She teams up with the somehow paroled Willis, and they eventually manage to murder some evil yellow dude who used to be Stahl. Boothe apparently gets away with it, but there is always the chance that he will bite it in a sequel.

The third story has Dwight McCarthy rescuing Brittany Murphy from the clutches of gangster Benicio del Toro. The latter is murdered by vigilante prostitutes led by Rosario Dawson and her sword-weilding henchwoman Devon Aoki. Alexis Bledel is a stoolie who gets everyone in even greater trouble, especially Dawson, who is menaced by huge black man Michael Clarke Duncan.

How others will see it. Sin City was not an overwhelming box office blockbuster, at least relative to its budget, but it must be a tremendous success as a home video release. At, the film has a spectacular 567K user votes.

The most prestigious film festivals (Academy Awards, Golden Globes, BAFTA) ignored Sin City, although Cannes bestowed a Palme d'Or nomination. The movie was lavished with nods and wins from second-tier and specialized festivals, most notably at the Satellite Awards.

At, the user ratings are extremely high at 8.1 out of 10. Predictably, there is a decline in rating with increasing age of the viewer, although even women over 45 give it a 6.6, at least partially forgiving the mega-violence and the parade of sexualized women.

How I felt about it. There are two categories of men in the world of Sin City: those who protect, or avenge, attractive females, and those who capture, rape, and murder attractive females. Both categories are violent, and seek to destroy the other.

And what about the attractive females? (This movie has no unattractive females, although homely men are prevalent, especially if you consider the orange bald Ferengi thing to be a man.) Are they merely defenseless eye candy?

No, true to the film's ultimate hard-boiled crime fiction origins, our beauties can be either the loyal Girl Friday, the duplicitous damsel in distress, the tough girl who dishes it out (as in Kill Bill), or the innocent Pauline in peril. So, we have greater variety for women, four categories instead of the two for men. The important thing is that they are worthwhile eye candy for the film's young male audience.

Since the movie is inspired by a cartoon magazine, we can expect the heroic protagonist to perform Herculean feats of strength and absorb Promethean levels of punishment, all to rescue or avenge some babe and murder the above-the-law serial killer. Unrestricted by the Production Code, heads can be severed and kept as souvenirs (this happens regularly), sexual organs can be mutilated, and bound prisoners can be consumed alive by wild animals. Anything goes.

But it would be nice if this graphic violence had a purpose behind, for example, demonstrating the uber-manliness of the hero, or the depth of depravity of the villain. But such exaggerations are merely the stock in trade, the soup d'jour of female beauty and male violence, with a dash of female violence (the cool babe-with-Samurai-sword style) to spice the stew.

It will never end. Heroes die and are reborn, villians are crushed and re-emerge, ever fated to battle against each other in perpetual night for the temporary possession of some hot teen or twenty-something.

It is all one big juicy male fantasy. They can be the Batman out of costume taking on the latest child kidnapper-rapist-murderer, for the prize of the Maxim photo spread actress.

If done well enough, which is the case here, the movie can be a guilty pleasure. One can also argue that the weird cinematography (simulated comic strip black and white with daps of color) is innovative, rather than a gimmick.

Nonetheless, movies do exist in the hard-boiled genre that are much superior. Chinatown (1974), obviously, The Maltese Falcon (1941), and Fargo (1996), although the latter film "breaks the rules" by casting an average-looking female detective. Besides more realistic plots, these movies have in common characters instead of caricatures, and work within the genre instead of overdoing it to the point of parody.

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