Man of the Moment

Sean William Scott

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Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Sin City 

Monday night Mike, Tom, Ian and I went to see Sin City. Within the group reaction seemed to be a little mixed, though I think I had the most negative take on the film.

First of all, this was probably the worst, most distracting, most tonally inappropriate score I've ever heard in any film. There's an adage in film that goes something like: if you notice the music in a movie, it's not doing its job. The music in this film intrudes on every scene in the worst possible way.

I never really bought Mickey Rourke as Marv. Primarily it was because the make-up was just too noticeable. The same thing greatly hindered Nick Stahl's performance as Jr. The characters work on the printed page, when drawn in Frank Miller's highly stylized way, but put into a three-dimensional world, and surrounded by other actors, they become cartoonish. The same problem cropped up whenever a scene cut to a white silhouette against a black back-ground. Again, it's a technique that works fine on paper, but on film it comes off as too obviously drawn from a comic book, and it throws you out of the film.

Visually, however, it mostly worked. I'm not a great fan of digital filming, or of filming against green-screens. In most films it creates a look of unreality that overwhelms the viewer. It's mostly more subdued here, and since the material already has an absurdist element to it , it doesn't become as off-putting. Except of course for the cars. Every time a character was in a convertible it looked too small in comparison to the actor. And all the hard-tops looked like boxes on wheels. The proportions were so odd that I didn't even notice at first that the cars didn't move correctly. Apparently in Sin City either the roads have no friction or the vehicles hover an inch off the ground.

In terms of the acting, putting Josh Hartnett up front is not a good way to win me over, especially if you then try to convince me that he's a hit-man. There was a remarkable amount of wooden acting in this film. The worst offenders were Bruce Willis, Jessica Alba and Alexis Bledel. Mickey Rourke gets a pass because to say that his acting is "stiff" would be a marked improvement over his past body of work. It's a particular shame that Willis and Alba apparently decided to phone in their roles, as the "That Yellow Bastard" sequence could have been quite good if they had chosen a more emotive acting style than "sullen mannequin."

The best sequence in the film was "The Big Fat Kill." It had the right mix of over-the-top violence, dark humor and mean-spiritedness to tell an entertaining story, but also to give the actors something to do. Clive Owen does an excellent job with his role, Brittany Murphy is always fantastic, Rosario Dawson, in accordance with my theory that the actors having the most fun with their roles are the ones who recognize the flaws in the film, clearly is having a ball chewing all the scenery in sight, and Devon Aoki out-acts almost every person in the film despite not being given anything to do other than be enigmatically Oriental.

In terms of the audience, least one person fell asleep about half-way through the movie. If violence and nudity can't keep people awake, that's probably not a good sign. Also not a good sign was when someone in the group sitting directly behind us observed at the start of the film "it's in black and white." The same group, upon existing the film, commented "[Hartigan] killing himself was unexpected." My reaction to that, to Mike, was "has this person never seen a movie before?" I mean, Hartigan's death is probably the most baldly foreshadowed moment in the entire film. (The other really good Mike and I moment was during the trailer for the re-make of The Amityville Horror when the words "based on a true story" flashed on the screen and we both burst out laughing simultaneously.)

Regarding the source material for a moment, it's a genre I have some familiarity and fondness for. Back when I still haunted the halls of academia, my senior thesis was an examination of representations of masculinity in the "hard-boiled" school of crime and detective fiction. In other words, I read a lot of the same books Frank Miller did. And, as far as Sin City goes, it's all very uneven work. Some of it can be quite good, much of it is passable, and when it's bad it's awful. What Miller does, and what the move tries to capture, and with only mixed results, is take all the wildest, most bloodily typical elements of the "pulp" genre and make out of them something that is equal parts pastiche and satire. It's not really meant to be taken seriously, and approaching it without an awareness of the intended comedy is likely to leave the viewer/reader with a bad taste in his or her mouth. That Miller revels in the misogynistic subtext of the genre only compounds that problem. Miho, for example, while a compelling character by the standards of the genre, is always more of an object than a subject. I did not use the word "Oriental" by accident earlier. The term is most correctly used to reference things, not people. And while the mystery of Miho is what makes her an intriguing character, it also keeps her from really being human.


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