It has become increasingly apparent to me that moviegoers are interested in visuals. This should not be surprising; film began as a visual medium, its images are enormous, and movies are commonly seen as a pastime rather than an opportunity for serious reflection. So the popularity of Sin City is not in the least surprising. Most of my friends have seen it at least once, and nearly all have loved it. Not liked; loved.
I can see plenty of things to like. Decent, eclectic cast. Violence and sex. Action. Snarky humor. Striking visuals—and I will say I consider this film quite an achievement on that front. The translation of comic to film is beautiful and quite well done; it’s rarely you see modern actors lit from one side only, and it brings to mind film noir. Unlike film noir, whose purpose was to not only save money but to expose the gritty, real side of city life, this film goes so far towards gritty realism is totally lost. Not that that’s a horrible thing. The use of color, while arbitrary, is interesting. Overall, this movie is worth seeing only for the aesthetic concepts it pioneers.
But to love it? Aesthetics are not enough to get me into a movie. I want characters, plots, subtext. This, I’m sad to say, are lacking here. Rodriquez has made some wonderfully fun action movies in the past, such as Desperado and Once Upon a Time in Mexico. The visuals and the over-the-top style convinced me I was to have fun with the blood and violence and gunplay. In Sin City, amongst the dregs of society and in a suitably dingy visual style, I have trouble enjoying the funny violence. The tone the film gives me is not the tone of carefree melee. And so I am torn; am I suppose to laugh when a dead character talks? The film displays a complete lack of morality or redemption and coupled with an atmosphere of such despair it’s difficult for me to accept this. I love a good violent movie. As I said, I think Rodriguez has already made at least two of them. This is not one.
There was potential here. There were characters who, had we been given the opportunity to follow them more, might have had interesting stories. But Rodriguez jumps between tales without apparent reason, leaving the audience unsure of whether a particular thread will get picked up or whether there’s a whole sweater in it anywhere at all. If he wanted to give us a picture of Sin City, we needed to see more people in different situations. If he wanted us to care about anyone, he needed to stop jumping around. I’m glad I saw it. I’m glad someone’s finally made a movie true to the spirit of a comic. But it’s not my comic of choice, and while impressive, it is essentially empty. Empty calories are fine, but as with the films of Quentin Tarantino (a “guest director” on this film, however that works) I’m never sure whether the director thinks he’s serving a five course meal or a snack, so I never know how much to invest.