[box cover]

Sin City

As he tells the story, comic artist/writer Frank Miller always wanted to tell pulp stories of desperate men, boozy dames, and fast cars through his chosen medium. Growing up in rural Vermont, he was fascinated by the big city as described by writers like Raymond Chandler and Mickey Spillane, and he had a deep love for film noir and crime stories. But when he arrived in New York with a portfolio full of such themes, he was told that the work was all in tights-and-capes superheroes — so he learned to draw men in tights. Miller became famous in the world of comics for his mature, edgy work on stories about Daredevil , "X-Men"'s Wolverine, and, most notably, in his groundbreaking "Dark Knight Returns" about an older, meaner, even more driven Batman who takes a stand against Superman, who's become the tool of an increasingly Fascist world government. The success of that work allowed him the freedom to begin his pet project, "Sin City," a stripped-down fantasy with tough guys, beautiful women, big guns, and gut-clenching violence, all drawn in a shadow-and-light style so iconic — and yet so breathtakingly unique — that it became an immediate classic. It would also be a natural for adaptation to the movies, one would think, given the obvious influence that movies had on the comic — but Miller had done a stint in Hollywood working on scripts for films like Robocop, and he came away deeply discouraged by the way writers' work is treated by producers and directors. It took Robert Rodriguez to convince him otherwise. Rodriguez used the high-tech facilities at his Troublemaker Studios in Austin, Texas, to create a visual presentation showing Miller exactly how the director intended to recreate the look of "Sin City" using digital effects. Miller was hooked, coming on board as Rodriguez's co-director.

The film version of Sin City presents the first three of Miller's stories set in that world, "The Hard Goodbye," "The Big Fat Kill," and "That Yellow Bastard." All are connected by the location, Basin City, and by several characters. In the tradition of classic pulp crime, the heroes are men who live on the wrong side of the law, by their own set of ethics, and who find themselves playing the hero out of sheer circumstance. Marv (Mickey Rourke) is a huge, ugly bruiser who wakes up after a night with a stunningly beautiful woman (Jaime King) to find her dead in his bed. Dwight (Clive Owen) takes issue with the treatment of a waitress he's been dating (Brittany Murphy) by a psycho thug named Jackie Boy (Benicio Del Toro) and finds himself caught in the middle of a turf war between the city's cops and the very capable hookers who run Old Town. And Hartigan (Bruce Willis) is an aging cop, ready for retirement, whose attempt to foil a kidnapping of a little girl leads to his own arrest and imprisonment — so, on his release eight years later, he sets out to make sure the girl is safe and punish the fiend who was behind the whole thing. Each of the interlocking tales is exquisitely violent, darkly funny, and heavily atmospheric, like the source material. Each tale also is about love and honor — and, again in classic noir fashion, with tragic consequences.

*          *          *

Detractors of Sin City have called it both an exercise in style over substance and have labeled it sexist for its depiction of women as strippers and hookers. Both arguments are fair, but both are overly simplistic as well — "Sin City," the comic, was a celebration of a very specific visual style, presented in a visual medium. That Rodriguez and Miller worked so hard to recreate the unique look of the graphic novel on film (another visual medium) makes it a de facto exercise in style. But there's a lot of substance in Sin City, with its moving themes of love, vengeance, perversion, and, most notably, a code of ethics that exists above and beyond the written law. As for the charges of sexism … well, the women are, indeed, mostly sex workers. And voluptuous and beautiful and provocatively dressed, when they're dressed at all. Again, this is fully in keeping with the source material of Hammett and Chandler and pulp crime and early film noir — why Miller doesn't deserve the charge of sexism is due to the fact that his women don't exist simply for male titillation. Each female character is strong and dynamic in her own way — Lucille (Carla Gugino) is Marv and Hartigan's attorney, and as gorgeous as she is, she's also a lesbian, so she's just their lawyer. Miho (Devon Aoki) is a deadly assassin working as a lieutenant for Gail (Rosario Dawson), who keeps order in Old Town. Even Nancy (Jessica Alba), the designated damsel-in-distress, does her part to help her would-be savior, Hartigan, and behaves with both bravery and intelligence under extreme duress. "Sexism" implies that women are being used purely as objects, and that couldn't be further from the truth in Sin City — Miller may draw his dames with ample breasts, lush thighs and huge, swollen lips, but he writes them as smart, capable characters who can hold their own with macho brutes like Hartigan, Dwight, and Marv.

Buena Vista/Miramax's DVD release of Sin City features a flawless anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio options. Expect a lavish special edition down the road — supplements this time around include a behind-the-scenes featurette (8 min.) and promos for other Buena Vista/Miramax titles. Keep-case with paperboard slipcase.
—Dawn Taylor

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