In Frank Miller's award-winning, graphic novel series Sin City everything is black and white with a rare splash of color. That's the way the books are drawn. That's the way the film is shot. That's the way life is in Sin City. Black and white. Good guys and bad guys. The eternal struggle. Sure, the divide gets blurry occasionally when good guys do bad things, at times very bad things, but these Old Testament avenging angels mete out justice with "a bit of the old ultraviolence" only for the right reasons.
It might be hard to see through the uniquely stylized look and the gruesome, violent subject matter, both pervasive throughout the film, but the motivating force behind each main character of the film's three storylines is love. Marv from Sin City, the one that started it all, is seeking revenge on the people who caused the death of Goldie, a young woman he met, made love to, and awoke in the morning to find dead beside him. She showed the grizzled Marv something he didn't know existed; Dwight from The Big Fat Kill is trying to protect Gail, an old flame, and her friends from the mob who have plans to take over Old Town and the women in it; and Detective Hartigan from That Yellow Bastard, he once saved the life of a young girl named Nancy from a child molester/serial killer. Years later, he must save her again when the killer reemerges and finds her. Love triumphs over evil even though the participants don't always.
Rodriguez takes the great stories and artwork by Frank Miller, which is set in the world of hard-boiled pulp detective novels and has the look of '40 film noir, and brings them to life without losing any of the magic. Yet, it's not just the look of Sin City that is captured; Rodriguez used Miller's drawings to frame the shots, basically using Miller's work as his own storyboard, a sheer stroke of genius. It's no wonder that Miller is co-director. It is his vision on the screen and Rodriguez just moved it from the page to the screen.
The film has an amazing cast, one famous face after another. Most films don't get half this many talented actors together; however, the best performance is under a bunch of make-up. Mickey Rourke brings Marv to life in what would be an acclaimed performance if the film weren't so dark. And look for a cameo by Miller as the Padre during confession.
The only minor gripe I have with the film is the prologue and epilogue. The opening is taken from a yarn called "The Customer Is Always Right," which is collected in Babes, Booze and Bullets. It gives a sense of the world to come, but wasn't anything special. Better choices could have been made.
Released on Blu-ray, the high-definition format is the perfect match for the film’s stunning visuals, which are presented in 1080p with a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The look mimics Miller’s template in the books of mostly black and white images, with limited use of color for emphasis that becomes heightened due to the backdrop. The black and white shows great contrast and a range of gray variations. The colors are vibrant and pop off the screen, the reds in particular from The Customer’s red dress cutting across the balcony to Dwight’s car racing through the city. The textures have great detail, from the actor’s faces to the digitally created settings.
One issue with the video is some of the digital effects at times appear to be just that and don’t seamlessly mesh with the actors. Some of the bonus features contribute to this problem as well, which I will further elaborate on.
The audio available in English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is a great soundtrack. The surround engulfs the viewer in the world whether it’s raining rain or raining bullets. There’s a lot of internal dialogue that also makes use of the surround, creating a sense of being in a character’s head. The sub-woofer augments the action with its low-rumbling bass. The dialogue is clear and consistent throughout.
The best Bonus Feature on Disc One and a Blu-ray exclusive is “Cine-Explore.” It’s fascinating to watch as it compares scenes from the film with the source material and what was happening on the green screen set during production. The audio running underneath is commentary by Rodriguez and Miller. It’s amazing for fans interested in learning the secrets behind the magic of filmmaking. Although once you know the tricks, like how some actors were never in the same scene, it can change the experience of subsequent viewings because it causes you to see more of what’s not real.
Another commentary by Rodriguez provides more technical aspects about the making of the film. He is a very forthcoming speaker, and doesn’t mind sharing. It’s interesting to learn how he created the film, dealing with light and actors only and then dealing with everything else in post. Quentin Tarantino, who directed a sequence and ran a camera, and a special guest star from the movie, joins Rodriguez.
The last audio track is from the audience reaction from the Austin Premiere. The viewer can hear what they reacted to, but the vocals have a bit of an echo, so it’s not worth the trade off.
Disc Two features a "Recut, Extended, Unrated Version" that presents the four individual stories in their entirety and adds 23 minutes of material. The only Blu-ray exclusive on this disc is the “Kill ‘Em Good” Interactive Comic Book. Marv’s story is brought to life using clips from the books, sound effects, and cast voices and puts the viewer in a video game version.
All the remaining bonus features are presented in standard definition. The features cover all aspects of the film’s creation. We get interviews that discuss the involvement of Miller (“How it Went Down: Convincing Frank Miller to Make the Film”) and Tarantino (“ Special Guest Director: Quentin Tarantino). A number of short features are self-explanatory: “A Hard Top with a Decent Engine: The Cars of Sin City;” “Booze, Broads and Guns: The Props of Sin City;” “Making the Monsters: Special Effects Make-Up;” and “Trenchcoats and Fishnets: The Costumes of Sin City.”
Rodriguez is given his own special features section. “15-minute Flic School” is a great look behind the scenes with some repetition of information. “The All Green-Screen Version” presents what took place on the set at 800 times normal speed. It shows how much post-production work was required and what limitation the actors had. It’s all right, but “Cine-Explore” with the comparisons and commentary is a much better and informative experience. “The Long Take” shows Tarantino directing Del Toro and Owen in their car scene.
“Sin City: Live in Concert” is taken from a charity gig in Austin during production. Bruce Willis and the Accelerators play “Devil Woman.” “10-Minute Cooking School” is a Rodriguz-fan favorite on his DVDs and this installment finds him making Sin City Breakfast Tacos, including tortillas from scratch.
Since the two-disc DVD owners have most of these bonus features, it's not worth the double-dip, but I recommend it for those who bought the single-DVD edition.
Lastly, please remember that the film is very rough and may be too much for many viewers. Even though the world and the violence are created in a stylized way that removes some of the realism, it is still very graphic. If you are unsure whether you can handle Sin City, I recommend checking it out first in your local bookstore and save yourself some time and money. Jackie-Boy was unprepared for what Sin City had in store and the results were not good. Don't make the same mistake. Trust me.