Sin City (film)
Theatrical release poster
|Edited by||Robert Rodriguez|
|Box office||$158.8 million|
Sin City (also known as Frank Miller’s Sin City) is a 2005 American crime anthology film written, produced, directed by Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller. It is based on Miller’s graphic novel of the same name.
Much of the film is based on the first, third, and fourth books in Miller’s original comic series. The Hard Goodbye is about a man who embarks on a brutal rampage in search of his one-time sweetheart’s killer, killing anyone, even the police, that gets in his way of finding and killing her murderer. The Big Fat Kill focuses on an everyman getting caught in a street war between a group of prostitutes and a group of mercenaries, the police and the mob. That Yellow Bastard follows an aging police officer who protects a young woman from a grotesquely disfigured serial killer. The intro and outro of the film are based on the short story “The Customer is Always Right” which is collected in Booze, Broads & Bullets, the sixth book in the comic series.
The film stars an ensemble cast led by Jessica Alba, Benicio del Toro, Brittany Murphy, Clive Owen, Mickey Rourke, Bruce Willis, and Elijah Wood. Featuring Alexis Bledel, Michael Clarke Duncan, Rosario Dawson, Carla Gugino, Rutger Hauer, Jaime King, Michael Madsen, Nick Stahl, and Makenzie Vega among others.
Sin City opened to wide critical and commercial success, gathering particular recognition for the film’s unique color processing which rendered most of the film in black and white while retaining or adding color for selected objects. The film was screened at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival in competition and won the Technical Grand Prize for the film’s “visual shaping”.
The Customer Is Always Right
In a penthouse on the roof of a skyscraper overlooking Basin City, a fancy party is in progress. A woman (Marley Shelton), dressed in a red evening gown, is alone on the balcony. A man (Josh Hartnett), who is narrating, comes up behind her and offers her a cigarette. They exchange a little small talk, he tells her that he sees in her eyes a “crazy calm,” of someone who’s tired of running, but doesn’t want to face her problems alone. He tells her that he will save her, and take her far away. They kiss, then he shoots her. She dies in his arms. He says that he does not know who she was running from, but will “cash her check in the morning.”
In the DVD commentary, Frank Miller explains that the victim in this story (the Customer of the title) is actually committing suicide. The unnamed woman had dated a mobster, and when she tried to break it off, he said that he would kill her in the most terrible way possible. She then used her connections to hire a hitman (known as the Salesman) to provide her with a quick death.
That Yellow Bastard (Part 1)
On the docks of Sin City, aging police officer John Hartigan (Bruce Willis) is attempting to stop serial child murderer Roark Junior (Nick Stahl) from raping and killing 11-year-old Nancy Callahan (Makenzie Vega). Junior is the son of the powerful Senator Roark (Powers Boothe), who paid off many policemen to cover up his son’s crimes, including Hartigan’s partner Bob (Michael Madsen). Bob tries to convince Hartigan to walk away, and appears to succeed, but Hartigan sucker-punches him, knocking him out cold. Hartigan then makes his way into a warehouse, knocking unconscious two local criminals. Junior is inside with the frightened Nancy and two armed henchmen, making sure that Junior and Nancy “get along” before leaving them alone. Hartigan shoots and kills the henchmen, but Junior shoots him in the shoulder, grabs Nancy and runs out to the docks. Hartigan catches up to Junior and shoots off his ear, causing him to drop Nancy. He then proceeds to shoot off Junior’s arm and genitals, before being shot in the back several times by Bob, who has recovered. Bob tells Hartigan to stay down, but Hartigan knows he must buy time for backup to arrive (as Bob will kill Nancy if they’re alone) so he tries to pull his reserve gun, causing Bob to shoot him even more. As the sirens approach, Hartigan lapses into unconsciousness knowing that Nancy is safe, justifying himself with the words “An old man dies, a little girl lives; fair trade.”
The Hard Goodbye
After a night of lovemaking, Marv (Mickey Rourke) awakens to find Goldie (Jaime King) murdered. The police arrive, and he flees the frame-up, vowing to avenge Goldie’s death. He turns to Lucille (Carla Gugino), his parole officer, who patches his wounds and unsuccessfully warns him to give up on this mission. Marv heads to Kadie’s Bar in search of information, where he interrogates and kills two hitmen sent after him. Marv then shakes down various informants, working his way up to a corrupt priest (Frank Miller), who reveals that a member of the Roark family was behind Goldie’s murder. Marv kills the priest, but is then attacked and shot at by a woman with a strong resemblance to Goldie. Marv, recognizing that he hasn’t taken his medication for his “condition” for a long time, considers her to be a hallucination.
Marv arrives at the Roark family farm, where he’s subdued by the silent stalker who managed to kill Goldie without waking him. He awakens in the basement, with the heads of the stalker’s past victims and Lucille, who was captured and lost her hand when she decided to look into Marv’s story. She reveals to Marv that the killer is a cannibal. He manages to break out, and learns that the killer’s name is Kevin (Elijah Wood), but Lucille surrenders to the corrupt police officers who show up and is shot to death. Marv kills them all, hearing from their leader that Cardinal Patrick Henry Roark (Rutger Hauer) arranged for Goldie’s murder.
Marv goes to Old Town, Sin City’s red light district seeking confirmation of the killer’s identity. He’s captured and allows Goldie’s look-alike (her twin sister Wendy) to beat him, to convince her that he didn’t kill Goldie. Convinced, she and Marv arm themselves and return to the farm. Marv kills Kevin brutally, then taking the head to Cardinal Roark, who confesses: Kevin had begun killing and eating prostitutes to swallow their souls, and the cardinal joined in; when Goldie began investigating, she was killed. Marv kills the cardinal but is shot by his guards.
With great difficulty, the police force Marv to confess to killing not only Roark and Kevin, but their victims as well. He’s sentenced to death and is later visited by Wendy, who thanks him for avenging her sister and spends the night with him, telling him he can call her Goldie. They sleep together in his cell. Marv is executed the next day, with it taking two electrocutions in the chair.
The Big Fat Kill
Shellie (Brittany Murphy), a barmaid from Kadie’s, is being harassed by her abusive ex-boyfriend Jackie Boy (Benicio del Toro). Her current boyfriend Dwight (Clive Owen) is disgusted with his brutish rival, and shoves Jackie Boy’s head into a urine-filled toilet bowl, warning him to leave Shellie alone. Jackie Boy flees with his friends, heading to Old Town to cause further trouble. Dwight follows them and watches them harass young prostitute Becky (Alexis Bledel). Also watching is Gail (Rosario Dawson), one of the head prostitutes and Dwight’s on-and-off lover.
When Jackie Boy threatens Becky with a gun, martial arts expert Miho (Devon Aoki) sweeps down, severely injuring Jackie Boy. As it becomes apparent Jackie Boy won’t die quickly, Dwight asks Miho to finish him. She nearly severs his head, making “a Pez dispenser out of him.” As the prostitutes collect the dead men’s money, they realize that Jackie Boy is actually well-respected police officer Lt. Jack Rafferty; his death spells a certain end to the truce between the police and the prostitutes, and war against Old Town will be inevitable.
While a traumatized Becky returns home, Dwight agrees to take the corpses to the local tar pit. On the way, he has a hallucinatory conversation with Jackie Boy’s corpse, who taunts him as he is chased by a police officer. Dwight talks his way out of the situation and arrives at the tar pit, but is suddenly shot by mercenaries. Meanwhile, head mercenary Manute (Michael Clarke Duncan) arrives in Old Town and kidnaps Gail, explaining that an informant has revealed everything and that other mercenaries are currently invading Old Town.
Dwight kills several mercenaries but is knocked into the tar by a grenade; he sinks into the tar and nearly drowns before Miho arrives and saves him. However, the other mercenaries have escaped and have taken Jackie Boy’s severed head with them. Dwight and Miho chase after the mercenaries and have a car accident, followed by a violent shoot-out that ends with the death of both mercenaries and the retrieval of Jackie Boy’s head. Dwight devises a plan and he and Miho return to Old Town.
As Gail is being tortured, she learns that Becky was the traitor, informing the mercenaries out of fear and greed. Manute receives a letter from Dwight via arrow from Miho, offering Jackie Boy’s head in exchange for Gail. They meet in the back alley, where the trade is made, though the mercenaries plan to kill them anyway. Dwight suddenly activates a grenade he had placed in Jackie Boy’s head, completely destroying it and any evidence that could have been taken to the police. The other prostitutes of Old Town then reveal themselves on the rooftops surrounding the alley and gun down the mercenaries. Amidst the gunfire, an injured Becky escapes while Dwight and Gail kiss passionately.
That Yellow Bastard (Part 2)
Hartigan, who survived his wounds, is recovering in a hospital. Senator Roark (Boothe), Junior’s father, arrives and informs him that Junior is in a coma and all plans for the Roark legacy are now in serious jeopardy. Senator Roark reveals that Hartigan will survive, will be framed for Junior’s crimes and serve the resultant jail term. Additionally, if Hartigan tells anyone the truth, the informed people will be killed. A grateful Nancy visits and thanks him. She promises to write letters to Hartigan every week while he’s in prison and departs.
Hartigan complies and goes to jail, knowing it is the only way to protect Nancy and his loved ones, though he refuses to officially confess to the crimes, preventing any possibility of parole. He receives the weekly letter from Nancy as promised. After 8 years, however, the letters stop arriving, and then Hartigan receives a severed finger instead. Realizing she could have been kidnapped by the Roarks, Hartigan finally confesses to all charges, knowing this will lead to his release and being able to help Nancy. Outside the jail, he reunites with his old partner, Bob, who has come to regret his actions. Bob drives Hartigan to the city, telling him that Hartigan’s wife has remarried and has children. Unknowingly being stalked by a deformed, yellow-skinned man, Hartigan searches for Nancy, eventually finding her at Kadie’s Bar, where she has become a 19-year-old erotic dancer (Jessica Alba).
Realizing that the severed finger was a fake and that he was set up to lead the Roarks to Nancy, he tries to leave unnoticed but is seen by her, leading her to jump into his arms and kiss him passionately. Knowing they have been “made,” they quickly escape in Nancy’s car. The yellow-skinned man follows in his own car and shoots at them, but Hartigan shoots back, hitting the yellow-skinned man. When Hartigan and Nancy turn back to confirm the kill, the yellow-skinned man hides in the back of Nancy’s car. Arriving at a hotel, Nancy reveals that she’s in love with Hartigan and tries to seduce him, stripping off to her underwear and getting into bed, much to his discomfort. The deformed man then attacks them again, revealing himself as Junior Roark, though Hartigan now refers to him as the Yellow Bastard.
The Yellow Bastard, having been disfigured by the years of surgery necessary to regenerate his missing pieces, leaves Hartigan for dead, having hanged him, and takes Nancy to the Roark farm to finally rape and kill her. Hartigan escapes, however, and tracks the Yellow Bastard to the farm, where he’s whipping and torturing Nancy. Hartigan kills the guards and then corners the Yellow Bastard and fakes a heart attack to fool him into letting go of Nancy, giving Hartigan the chance to stab him before castrating him (with his bare hands) and beating him to death.
Hartigan tells Nancy his plans to reveal Senator Roark’s corruption to the police and finally bring down organized crime in Sin City, in order to convince her to leave him. After Nancy departs, Hartigan, knowing that this would be impossible, and Roark will never stop hunting them as long as Hartigan lives, then commits suicide in order to ensure Nancy’s safety once and for all. He reminds himself “An old man dies, a young woman lives; fair trade”, before shooting himself in the head.
An injured Becky departs from a hospital, talking on a cell phone with her mother. While riding in the elevator, she is met by the Salesman, who offers her a cigarette. Realizing who he is, and knowing he’s there to deal with her, she tells her mother she loves her and hangs up.
- Mickey Rourke as Marv
- Jaime King as Goldie and Wendy
- Carla Gugino as Lucille
- Elijah Wood as Kevin
- Rutger Hauer as Cardinal Roark
- Jason Douglas as Hitman
- Frank Miller as Priest
- Clive Owen as Dwight McCarthy
- Benicio del Toro as Jack Rafferty
- Rosario Dawson as Gail
- Michael Clarke Duncan as Manute
- Alexis Bledel as Becky
- Devon Aoki as Miho
- Brittany Murphy as Shellie
- Patricia Vonne as Dallas
- Nicky Katt as Stuka
- Clark Middleton as Schutz
- Tommy Flanagan as Brian
- Bruce Willis as John Hartigan
- Jessica Alba as Nancy Callahan
- Makenzie Vega as Young
- Nick Stahl as Roark Junior
- Powers Boothe as Senator Roark
- Michael Madsen as Bob
- Jude Ciccolella as Liebowitz
- Rick Gomez as Klump
- Nick Offerman as Shlubb
Principal photography began on March 29, 2004. Several of the scenes were shot before every actor had signed on; as a result, several stand-ins were used before the actual actors were digitally added into the film during post-production. Rodriguez, an aficionado of cinematic technology, has used similar techniques in the past. In Roger Ebert‘s review of the film, he recalled Rodriguez’s speech during production of Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams: “This is the future! You don’t wait six hours for a scene to be lighted. You want a light over here, you grab a light and put it over here. You want a nuclear submarine, you make one out of thin air and put your characters into it.”
The film was noted throughout production for Rodriguez’s plan to stay faithful to the source material, unlike most other comic book adaptations. Rodriguez stated that he considered the film to be “less of an adaptation than a translation”. As a result, there is no screenwriting in the credits; simply “Based on the graphic novels by Frank Miller”. There were several minor changes, such as dialogue trimming, new colorized objects, removal of some nudity, slightly edited violence, and minor deleted scenes. These scenes were later added in the release of the Sin City Collectors DVD, which also split the books into four separate stories.
The soundtrack was composed by Rodriguez, John Debney, and Graeme Revell. The film’s 3 main stories were each scored by an individual composer: Revell scored “The Hard Goodbye”, Debney scored “The Big Fat Kill”, and Rodriguez scored “That Yellow Bastard”. Additionally, Rodriguez co-scored with the other two composers on several tracks.
Another notable piece of music used was the instrumental version of the song “Cells” by the London-based alternative group The Servant. The song was heavily featured in the film’s publicity, including the promotional trailers and television spots, and being featured on the film’s DVD menus.
Three directors received credit for Sin City: Miller, Rodriguez, and Quentin Tarantino, the last for directing the drive-to-the-pits scene in which Dwight talks with a dead Jack Rafferty (Benicio del Toro). Miller and Rodriguez worked as a team directing the rest of the film.
When the Directors Guild of America refused to allow two directors that were not an established team to be credited (especially since Miller had never directed before), Rodriguez first planned to give Miller full credit. Miller would not accept this. Rodriguez, also refusing to take full credit, decided to resign from the Guild so that the joint credit could remain.
The film was released on DVD on August 16, 2005.
The film opened on April 1, 2005 to generally positive reviews. Film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 77% of critics gave the film a positive review based on 249 reviews with a “Certified Fresh” rating, with an average score of 7.4/10. The site’s consensus states: “Visually groundbreaking and terrifically violent, Sin City brings the dark world of Frank Miller’s graphic novel to vivid life.” On Metacritic the film has a score of 74 (citing “generally favorable reviews”) based on 40 reviews. Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of “B” on an A+ to F scale.
Roger Ebert awarded the film 4/4 stars, describing it as “a visualization of the pulp noir imagination, uncompromising and extreme. Yes, and brilliant.” Online critical reaction was particularly strong: James Berardinelli placed the film on his list of the “Top Ten” films of 2005. Chauncey Mabe of the Sun-Sentinel wrote: “Really, there will be no reason for anyone to make a comic-book film ever again. Miller and Rodriguez have pushed the form as far as it can possibly go.”
Several reviews focused predominantly on the film’s more graphic content, criticizing it for a lack of “humanity”. William Arnold of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer described it as a celebration of “helpless people being tortured …I kept thinking of those clean-cut young American guards at Abu Ghraib. That is exactly the mentality Rodriguez is celebrating here. Sin City is their movie.”
The New York Times critic Manohla Dargis claimed that the directors’ “commitment to absolute unreality and the absence of the human factor” made it “hard to get pulled into the story on any level other than the visceral.” Credit is given for Rodriguez’s “scrupulous care and obvious love for its genre influences” but Dargis notes “it’s a shame the movie is kind of a bore” where the private experience of reading a graphic novel does not translate, stating that “the problem is, this is his private experience, not ours”.
In a more lighthearted piece focusing on the progression of films and the origins of Sin City, fellow Times critic A. O. Scott, identifying Who Framed Roger Rabbit as its chief cinematic predecessor, argued that “Something is missing – something human. Don’t let the movies fool you: Roger Rabbit was guilty,” with regard to the increasing use of digitisation within films to replace the human elements. He applauds the fact Rodriguez “has rendered a gorgeous world of silvery shadows that updates the expressionist cinematography of postwar noir” but bemoans that several elements of “old film noirs has been digitally broomed away”, resulting instead in a film that “offers sensation without feeling, death without grief, sin without guilt, and, ultimately, novelty without surprise”.
Sin City is described as a neo-noir film by some authors.
Sin City grossed $29.1 million on its opening weekend, defeating fellow opener Beauty Shop by more than twice its opening take. The film saw a sharp decline in its second weekend, dropping over 50%. Ultimately, the film ended its North American run with a gross of $74.1 million against its $40 million negative cost. Overseas, the film grossed $84.6 million, for a worldwide total from theater receipts of $158.7 million.
Mickey Rourke won a Saturn Award, an Online Film Critics Society Award, a Chicago Film Critics Association Award, and an Irish Film & Television Award for his performance. The film was in competition for the Palme d’Or at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival, and Rodriguez won the Technical Grand Prize for the film’s visual shaping. Graeme Revell‘s work in the film was honored with a Best Film Music Award at the BMI Film & TV Awards.
Sin City was nominated at the 2006 MTV Movie Awards in three categories: Best Movie, Best Kiss for Clive Owen and Rosario Dawson, and Sexiest Performance for Jessica Alba, winning the latter. The film also received three nominations at the 2005 Teen Choice Awards: Choice Movie: Action, Choice Movie: Action Actress for Jessica Alba and Choice Movie: Villain for Elijah Wood.
A sequel, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, was released on August 22, 2014. Production for the sequel began in October 2012 with Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller directing a script co-written by them and William Monahan. The film was based mainly on A Dame to Kill For, the second book in the Sin City series by Miller, and also included the short story “Just Another Saturday Night” from the Booze, Broads, & Bullets collection, as well as two original stories written by Miller for the film, titled “The Long Bad Night” and “Nancy’s Last Dance”. Actors Bruce Willis, Mickey Rourke, Rosario Dawson and Jessica Alba all reprised their roles in the sequel, amongst others. Unlike the 2005 original, the sequel was a critical and financial disappointment.
Dimension Films is developing a soft reboot of the series for television, Stephen L’Heureux who produced the second film will oversee the series with Sin City creator Frank Miller. This will be with new characters and timelines and be more like the comics rather than the films.
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