Analysis: 'Sin City' worthy of the name

By PAT NASON, UPI Hollywood Reporter  |  April 4, 2005 at 7:01 PM
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LOS ANGELES, April 4 (UPI) -- "Sin City," the No. 1 movie at the U.S. box office this weekend, has gotten enthusiastic reviews for its visual style and audacity, as well as some thumbs down for its hyper-violent content.

Co-directed by filmmaker Robert Rodriguez and graphic artist Frank Miller, "Sin City" is a fairly faithful movie rendition of Miller's comic-book series of the same name. Drawing core support from adolescent males, the Miramax Films production took in $28.1 million in its opening weekend.

Film critics generally congratulated Rodriguez and Miller for the movie -- which mostly had actors performing in front of a green screen with sets provided in post-production through computer-generated images.

Daily Variety said the film's "synthesis of story, acting and technology is in all ways more satisfying than last year's similar big-studio experiment, 'Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.'"

Movie critic Roger Ebert called the movie brilliant.

"It internalizes the harsh world of the Frank Miller 'Sin City' comic books and processes it through computer effects, grotesque makeup, lurid costumes and dialogue that chops at the language of noir," said Ebert.

Critics also generally took note of the movie's violence -- much of it cruel and sadistic -- and the seemingly amoral nature of the environment in which the habitués of "Sin City" live and operate.

If Walter Winchell were still around coining words -- "Reno-vation" for quickie Nevada divorces, or "G-men" for FBI agents -- he might have come up with "Style-ence" to describe the hyper-stylized violence that permeates contemporary entertainment. From video games such as "Grand Theft Auto" to movies such as Rodriguez's 2003 action-crime thriller "Once Upon a Time in Mexico," from hit TV shows such as "The Sopranos" to a wide swath of gangsta rap, violent images are presented with increasing sophistication and skill.

If the violence in "Sin City" is controversial, the controversy is little more than a continuation of an argument about graphic movie violence that has been running since the late 1960s, when directors such as Arthur Penn ("Bonnie & Clyde") and Sam Peckinpah ("The Wild Bunch") shocked the nation with violent imagery unlike anything most moviegoers had ever seen.

Much of the clucking about "Sin City," though, has more to do with its themes than the level of violence it delivers.

Internet gossip Matt Drudge -- technically not a movie critic -- was moved to note that "Sin City" opened on the same weekend that Pope John Paul II died and that it features "a cardinal as cannibal, in league with a serial killer who reads the Bible, a cross in just about every scene." Drudge also alerts his readers that the movie shows "Bruce Willis ripping a man's penis off."

On the Box Office Mojo Web site, Brandon Gray also observed the coincidental timing of the pope's death and the movie's release.

"As news of Pope John Paul II's death dominated the weekend," Gray wrote, "moviegoers appear to have vindicated recent accusations that America is plagued by what religious radicals call a death culture -- a charge lobbed by President George W. Bush in the wake of the Terri Schiavo case -- by flocking to the ultra-violent 'Sin City.'"

It's a hard case to make, though, that a big opening weekend for one movie proves that the United States is plagued with a culture of death. After all, the next five most popular movies of the weekend -- "Beauty Shop," "Guess Who," "Robots," "Miss Congeniality 2" and "The Pacifier" -- grossed $51 million, and "Sin City" was the only R-rated movie in the Top 10.

To be sure, "Sin City" trades on depravity. But that's not quite the same thing as saying the movie itself is depraved.

In the tradition of film noir, it is populated with low-life characters. There are no true "good guys" -- only deeply flawed characters who occasionally behave more-or-less honorably but whose value systems are organized around moral ambiguity.

The cardinal is a creep for the same reason that his brother, a powerful U.S. senator, is a crook -- because in "Sin City" all of the institutions a civilized society normally relies on for stability are thoroughly corrupt. "Sin City" is hardly the first movie to level that charge.

In "True Confessions" -- Robert De Niro's 1981 follow-up to "Raging Bull" -- an ambitious Catholic monsignor is drawn into conflict over the possibility that a respected member of the congregation might be involved in the killing of a prostitute.

The marketplace is huge, and there's no reason why it should not be hospitable to a return of movies the way they used to make them when Bing Crosby was winning an Oscar as Father O'Malley in the 1944 Best Picture nominee "Going My Way."

It's a fairly good bet, though, that the marketplace will soon enough see more projects like "Sin City" -- since it cost just $40 million to make and is likely to generate multiples of that figure in box-office and DVD sales.


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