Sin City (2005)

Directors: Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller & Quentin Tarantino

With the impending local release of the much-delayed Sin City follow-up, SBS decided to do tonight what commercial TV usually does and show the original to tie in with the new film. Personally I have no interest in the sequel (the ads make it look like just more of the very same except in 3D) and never had any great desire to see the first film a second time after my first viewing of it, but I thought eh, may as well take the opportunity to see if I still hate it as much as I did then. And yeah, I did, pretty much. In its favour, of course, is its overall aesthetic, that astounding look taken pretty much directly from Frank Miller’s graphic novels; Sin City was one of the first films to be shot primarily on a digital backlot and I suppose it made full use of that technology’s potential for grand artifice. Pretty much everything is stylised, the overall look (that glorious high-contrast black and white with patches of colour), the action, even the narrative and certain of the characters (whoever did the casting did a terrific job of getting people who looked just right for their roles, particularly Mickey Rourke and Benicio del Toro). It’s beautiful to look at, and pretty repugnant to actually watch. I’d almost forgotten just how extreme Frank Miller’s apparent fetish for dismemberment is here, particularly beheading and chopping off hands; this is particularly interesting given some of his pronouncements about Islam, of which he is not a fan, and given that certain Islamic countries still do both of those things as punishment for crimes. I didn’t know much about Miller at that time apart from The Dark Knight Returns, which I’d read when I was 14 and had little real understanding of things political, so never really appreciated at the time just how right-wing it was; by 2005 I could tell there was something fundamentally unpleasant about Frank Miller and his work (which has arguably only been amplified over the years), and it was right there at the grotty heart of Sin City, going beyond just hard-boiled neo-noir to something kind of pointlessly unpleasant. Somehow the cartoonish style is unable to overcome that nastiness, and since the film otherwise has nothing much to offer beyond style, I found it tonight, much as I did back in 2005 or ’06 (whenever it was I saw it on DVD), pretty hard to stomach. I do still think Tarantino’s “guest appearance” is one of the good things about the film (terrific black humour in that scene), and I do partly regret not seeing it at a cinema (I can only imagine how handsome it’d look on the big screen), but yeah, still an ugly bit of work I’ve no real use for.

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