Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Sin City

There is a reason comic books writers write comic books and not novels: their craft is for shit. For all I've heard of how great a job Frank Miller did on the "re-envisioning" of Batman in the 80s and his "groundbreaking" mature graphic novel (read: comic book) Sin City, I would expect some worthy prose of him. But "She shivered in the wind like the last leaf on a dying tree" is what we're given. That's pedestrian poetry, even worse prose, and a Noir cliche to say the least.
But that is what we're given with Sin City - every Noir cliche in the book. I read somewhere that Miller is a visual artist whose words take a back seat to the images he produces. Fair enough. His images are certainly impressively stark and unambiguous. However, this makes him a hack as a writer, and his words have no place on the screen. I wanted to like the movie, but lazy dialogue like "This is your last day on the force, I'm your partner, we've worked together twenty years" (I'm paraphrasing, but the bare bones are correct) made me cringe. The bad dialogue was made worse with an unending array of voice over narratives that added little to the action, hence, the audience's enjoyment of the movie. I think that if 75% of the voice overs were trimmed, the movie would have been much better (unfortunately the dialogue would remain).
This was a film noir, and as visually groundbreaking as it may have been, the stories seem to crib from some of the most influential noir in cinematic history. Bruce Willis' character was an amalgam of Bogart in the Maltese Falcon, MacMurray in Double Indemnity, and Mitchum in Out of the Past; of course, the amalgam was nowhere near as interesting as its progenitors. Clive Owen unfortunately played the role of the lover incapable of love, which I guess explains why he slaps the shit out Rosario Dawson. Mickey Rourke is the incurable lug, doomed to hell, who finds an ethos shortly before his suicidal rampage. Oddly, they all have the narrative voice of a seventeen year old comic book geek.
The other thing that bothered me throughout the movie was a feeling I get sometimes when I watch Rodriguez movies (if you can call them that), the feeling that I'm watching the most macho melodrama ever created. The movie just seemed like a two hour dialogue with Rodriguez asking you "Is it too real for you? Is it too real?" and then you might reply "No, in fact, it's a comic book," to which he may then say "Pussy." That's the sense I get from Passion of christ as well. I don't mind violence - Pulp Fiction is one of my favorite movies - but come on, ripping a guy's balls off? Like Martin Scorsese tells Larry David, it doesn't play. The symbolism, the theme, it all seemed to be a page from the Rodriguez playbook of reinforcing how awesome his characters are, as if to dissuade you from trying to pick apart the plot.
And the final problem - the plot. Sin City is not a movie. It's a comic book. That's fine if you like that sort of thing, but there's no character development to speak of (in terms of artistry, when I think of the creative process here, instead of a sculptor chiseling away carefully at marble I have the image of an inmate pounding the shit out of some stone slab), the plot is secondary if not tertiary to the cinematography (which is impressive), while the narrative seems to undermine the confident nature of the cinematography (there just seems to be something a little insecure about a groundbreaking movie that has far too mannered dialogue and cliched narratives).
In terms of artistic maturity, one section jumped out at me the most - Rourke's manbeast character stops by his parole officer's apartment. She is, of course, a "Dyke" who could have any man she wanted with that body, which of course she's flaunting - topless and thonged - in front of a psychotic who needs his pills. Yes. Now, gratuitous, chauvinistic nudity has a time and a place, it's just that it tends to follow Cannonball Run 3 on Cinemax late at night. Come to think of it, that's exactly the timeslot I saw "Once Upon a Time in Mexico."


Blogger T Po said...

wouldn't trimming the voice over, only expose the poor dialogue? what do you want here?

tearing the balls off is too much, but somebody pouring gas over their newly shorn ear socket is palatable?

I know your jobless ass doesn't get no cinemax 3
--colin meloy

4/14/2005 9:58 PM  
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