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Comic Book Stories Come to Life in <i>Sin City</i>

  • Alan Silverman

Director Robert Rodriguez teams up with graphic novel author Frank Miller to create a visually stunning (although ultra-violent) film noir that is remarkable for its style and technical achievement. Alan Silverman has a look at Sin City.

It's a place where danger lurks in every shadow and you can't trust anybody ... even your partner. And the women... oh yes, the women.

The world of Sin City comes from the stark black-and-white graphic novels or comic books by Frank Miller that have become cult classics; and for filmmaker Robert Rodriguez, it's a chance to delve into the stark and stylized noir genre.

"I just love this material. I've always wanted to do a film noir," Rodriguez says. "I love the seediness, the excitement of it [and] the visceral quality... the fact that you get to go meet people that you would never meet in your normal life and see things you would never see. It enters your dreams. Film noir has always been enticing to people and I think that's because it's the dark side of life. People like that."

Sin City intertwines three of Miller's stories, with characters from each drifting or blasting in and out of the others. Bookending this anthology is the story of Hartigan, a worn-out, haggard police detective played by Bruce Willis.

"We had the comics out every day and they are not comic books," Willis explains. "They are drawn stories of very adult, film noir crime stories; and as a pure film noir movie, Hartigan has a role to fill. He's an honest cop who goes up against everybody else in this city who is not honest.

For example, Jackie Boy, a flamboyant detective-gone-bad, played by Benicio del Toro.

Sin City is a digital creation; everything except the actors - the scenery, the skyline, even the car Jackie Boy is driving - is computer-generated imagery. Oscar-winner del Toro says acting in the blank space (that would later be filled in) was a fascinating exercise.

"It reminded me of theater," he says. "I trained as a theater actor and you had a bare stage and you had to pretend you were in the middle of Eighth Avenue and traffic is just going by... It reminded me a little bit of that and that made it fun. It was back to basics for me."

Adding to the gritty fantasy are the women of Sin City. every one of them curvaceous and voluptuous and scantily clad - if clad at all. Rosario Dawson plays tough-as-nails Gail, leader of the "Old Town" streetwalkers [prostitutes]. She admits to a few second thoughts when she saw her body-hugging wardrobe.

"Well, the costume designer did give me a bouquet of flowers when I decided I was actually going to wear 'the' outfit," she says.

They may be dressed to fit men's fantasies, but Dawson insists they are not merely objects of desire.

"All the women who are in Old Town take care of ourselves. We are in control of what we are. We know what our assets are ... and we call the shots, which I think is really powerful," she says. "I think there's a very even strength between the men and the women. It's a pretty tough town on both sides."

Like the source material, the film portrays a graphically violent world. Robert Rodriguez, who co-directed it with Frank Miller, says this is definitely not for kids.

"It is so over-the-top and stylized, like in the books, but that's what helped temper it. It was so black-and-white, so abstract, so representative that, as violent as it is, like in the comic, it felt tempered by the stylization," he says. "I made this an 'R' [restricted, no one under 17 admitted without a parent]. I didn't' try to trick people. It's a restricted movie. If parents let their kids in, that's their decision, but it doesn't mean I'm going to change how we made the movie. Frank made what he wanted to do and I wanted to do the exact same thing for cinema and suffer the consequences. If people don't go see it because it's 'R,' that's fine. It's not about appealing to the mass audience. It's really just about making the movie we want to make and tell the story we want to do."

The wide-ranging ensemble cast of Sin City also features Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Clive Owen, Elijah Wood, Carla Gugino and Nick Stahl. Along with Rodriguez and Miller, Quentin Tarantino gets a credit as "special guest director."

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