By Jeff Kubik
Visit lovely Basin City. See soaking remains of men pounded into the floorboards; hear the crackle of staccato gunfire in dark alleyways; marvel at noir grotesquerie painted with dollops of jaw-dropping nudity, blanched blood and steely one-liners.
Visit, but don’t stay. It’s murder trying to live in Sin City.
Clear as black and white, Frank Miller’s Sin City graphic novels are the crÃ¨me de le crÃ¨me of noir. An allegorical, urban Hell where prostitutes, killers and corrupt cops vie for control of the streets, the recent adaptation to the big screen has left comic aficionados drooling for a three-dimensional journey into the heart of Basin City.
Necessarily selecting only three of the five Sin City arcs–The Hard Goodbye, The Big Fat Kill and That Yellow Bastard–the film weaves the stories of three Sin City denizens together with the same continuous sense that makes Miller’s urban world so compelling. The filth in Sin City is connected; from Shelly, the barroom waitress (Brittany Murphy) who serves drinks at Kadie’s, to the Rourke family, the upper crust of Basin City’s ruling class.
In nearly every respect, the film is a perfect adaptation of the graphic novels, with most scenes faithfully shot frame-by-frame. Co-directed with Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller’s directorial debut shows a man used to controlling his work from its creation to its delivery, perhaps the film’s sole weakness.
By offering a literal interpretation of his own work, Miller falls on the oldest sword of adaptation as audiences walk out of the theatre conceding, “It was good, but the books were better.” Even graphic novels leave margins for interpretation between panels, allowing readers to immerse themselves in a world of black and white grit. While the screen offers visceral wish fulfillment of motion, it can never be greater than the original novel’s own power.
Though, of course, there’s still something to be said about seeing a man’s testicles ripped off on the thrilling scale of a theatre screen.
For better or worse, the world of Sin City is realized in all its brutal violence and dry noir cool–a pornographic display of sex and violence large enough to sate every drooling nerd several times over. Only anti-heroes live in Sin City, men and women ready and willing to remove the hands of corrupt cops or saw off limbs with a hacksaw.
The Hard Goodbye’s Marv (Mickey Rourke), with an ugly mug that could only live in the nightmare world of the series and now fully realized courtesy of movie prosthetics, is the worst of them all. Opening the film with his vignette offers a reveling look at Basin City full of torture, death and raspy-voiced wisdom. He’s a man with a problem and he has no reservations about killing a lot of people to get the job done. In a world like this, he’s as sympathetic a character as you’re likely to find.
So come visit lovely Basin City. It may be perpetually nightfall and you might catch the occasional glimpse of an enormous thug dragging some man by his face alongside a car, but it’s more than worth the trip.