Directed by: Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller and Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Bruce Willis, Rosario Dawson, Devon Aoki, Clive Owen, Elijah Wood, Rutger Hauer, Powers Boothe and more
I've been a fan of Frank Miller's for a long time. Even back when he made his cameo appearance in Robocop II, I knew him as a major dude in the comics world. It's fair to say that all the Batman films that have come out in the last couple of decades owe more than a passing favour to Mr Miller. And if you know Frank Miller, you know that besides The Dark Night and Batman: Year One, besides Hard Boiled and Ronin, beside the rest of his not inconsiderable body of work, there's a set of graphic novels that are head and shoulders above anything else - and they're all set in the mythic, film noir location of Basin City. Sin City.
As someone who was familiar with the books, I was salivating at the prospect of seeing how a story as graphically distinctive as Marv's odyssey in the original Sin City book (now renamed by its author as The Hard Goodbye) could possibly translate to the screen. I was utterly stunned when I saw the first screenshots from the movie. Rodriguez had ripped the images off the page and nailed them to the screen. So I was really, really looking forwards to this film.
Film is a very different medium to the graphic novel. Despite its reliance on strong visual images, the comic is not a print version of a movie. They have different paradigms, different kinetics, and different needs for pacing, plot, emotion. And in faithfully rendering Miller's work on screen, Rodriguez has lost some of the ebullience that his own stories hold in such massive quantities. Yes, Miller's work - indeed his world - is there on screen, but Miller's world is a joyless, grinding, unrelenting and unspeakably violent one. It's not real, it's hopelessly self-indulgent and while it looks absolutely stunning, there's precious little substance underneath. The brutality of it all is pushed so far that it becomes parody - Mickey Rourke's character is repeatedly run over by a dame in a fast car. Not once, or even twice, but lots of times he's subjected to ludicrous, bone-snapping collisions. And he gets up, dusts himself off, and gets on with his monologue.
There were a lot of people laughing at the movie when I went and saw it - not with it, but at it. To start with, I was upset, because they were laughing at my hero. But after a while the pacing meanders off, threads start getting interwoven and rather than drawing you in as the same device managed in films like Pulp Fiction, I just felt alienated. I wasn't engaged, or involved. I didn't care about any of the characters, and they were in all respects utterly two dimensional. Pick up another comic book, read a few pages, then switch to another one before the audience gets bored. By the time we get to Dwight and the Girls waging war on the mob, I was looking at my watch wondering how much longer it would take for things to wind up so I could go home.
However spectacular the cast, no matter how mesmerizing the technical achievement, I just came away from the film feeling disappointed. We'll see how the next two movies fare - production on A Dame To Kill For is under way right now, and another film is planned after that - but I'm not expecting anything earth shattering, I'm afraid.
Chris's rating: Three Stars