Frank Millers work has appeared on screen before. He is credited as screenwriter on both RoboCop 2 (1990) and RoboCop 3 (1993). Most recently, his interpretation of Marvels Daredevil was a strong influence on the movie adaptation of Daredevil (2003) and in particular its spinoff Elektra (2005), which was a character that Miller originally created. Miller had no hands-on experience with either film and his experience on the RoboCop films was reportedly a negative one, with his ideas being rewritten, such that he afterwards swore off allowing Hollywood to touch any of his properties.
All of that changed with Robert Rodriguez. Robert Rodriguez is surely the filmmaking equivalent of the Energizer Bunny. He first appeared in 1993 at age 24 with the cod-Spaghetti Western El Mariachi (1993), for which he performed almost every function on screen (directing, writing, producing, shooting, editing, acting and raising the finance himself). Both El Mariachi and its studio-backed sequel/remake Desperado (1995) are infused with an enormously fresh and vibrant energy that immediately signalled Rodriguez as one of the most promising new directors of the decade. Not long after, Rodriguez discovered genre cinema and has remained there fairly much ever since, first with the vampire film From Dusk Till Dawn (1996) made in collaboration with good friend Quentin Tarantino, and then the witty alien body snatchers film The Faculty (1998), the highly enjoyable childrens film Spy Kids (2001) and Planet Terror (2007), his half of Grindhouse (2007), the childrens film Shorts (2009) and much of Machete Kills (2013). Rodriguez has continued to expand, desiring to put his hands on almost every single aspect of production directing, writing, producing, photographing, scoring, editing, operating camera, sound editing, supervising the visual effects and designing the sets on his films, as well as setting up his own studio in Austin, Texas. On the minus side, this manic hyper-activity has begun to show through on some of his more recent films Spy Kids 2: Island of Lost Dreams (2002), Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003), Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over (2003), The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D (2005) and Spy Kids: All the Time in the World (2011) which have started to seem a little thin creatively.
Robert Rodriguez was a huge fan of the Sin City graphic novels. It was he that persuaded Frank Miller to let him make a film of Sin City by shooting a trailer at his own expense. (This appears in the film as the opening teaser The Customer is Always Right featuring Josh Hartnett and Marley Shelton). The trailer so impressed Miller that he immediately signed on. The film adapts three of Millers other stories That Yellow Bastard, The Big Fat Kill and the first published story, which was simply called Sin City in its initial appearance but in subsequent reprints was renamed The Hard Goodbye. (Rodriguez has announced his intention to eventually film all of the Sin City stories), Rodriguez has modelled the film so closely on the originals strips, using the panels as camera set-ups, that he credits Miller as co-director. In an extraordinary gesture of modesty, Rodriguez was so intent on co-crediting Miller as director that he resigned from the Directors Guild when they expressed dubiousness about Millers credit. Equally, while some of the stories have been trimmed down to fit into the running time, all of the dialogue has been taken directly from what Miller wrote to such extent that the film bears no credit for a screenplay, merely that it is Based on the Sin City novels by Frank Miller.
I was completely blown away by Sin City. It is without any doubt the best film that Robert Rodriguez has made to date. We have seen films that have tried to mimic the look of comic-books before the camp silliness of tvs Batman (1966-8), the self-conscious effect with which the screen was split up into panels by Ang Lee in Hulk (2003), and more successfully in George A. Romeros EC Comics homage Creepshow (1982) and in Warren Beattys Dick Tracy (1990), which attempted to create the look of a 6-colour comic strip on screen. There was also American Splendor (2003) and its unique fusion of graphic novel, staged drama and documentary. With the exception of perhaps Creepshow and American Splendor, this has never managed to seem anything more than a self-conscious affectation.
Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez however turn this into an extraordinary visual style all of its own. The film has been shot on high-definition digital video, which allows Rodriguez to bleed all colour from the frame and mimic the black-and-white look of Frank Millers panels with the exception of occasional flashes of tinted colour the splash of blood, the tail lights of cars, the red of the dress in the first segment, the flash of Wendys eyes and of course the sickly golden tint of the Yellow Bastards skin, while we also get some aspects Marvs bandages, Bruce Williss tie, the blood on victims where the colour comes out as a fluorescent white in sharp contrast to the black on screen. The visuals are extraordinary one could easily compare the stylised effect that Robert Rodriguez achieves here with the amazing things you see Orson Welles doing with camera and light when you discover Citizen Kane (1941) for the first time. Rodriguez has also shot almost the entire film in green screen with about the only set built being that of Kadies Bar and added the rest of the city and its backgrounds digitally. In a number of cases the actors that are reacting together on screen were not present on the same set (and in some cases had not even been cast) when their scenes together were shot and were only digitally merged in post-production.
The one film that one kept being reminded of throughout Sin City was Quentin Tarantinos Pulp Fiction (1994). Even though Pulp Fiction was made after Frank Miller created the Sin City graphic novels, it has many resemblances to the story structure of the film three tales where characters keep interweaving, as well as a bookended prologue and epilogue that is woven into the story. Plus, of course, Quentin Tarantino appears here credited as Guest Director he shot the scenes with Benicio Del Toros severed head talking to Clive Owen in the car. (A little known fact is that Robert Rodriguez also uncreditedly directed some scenes in Pulp Fiction the ones where Quentin Tarantino appears on screen and the two later collaborated on Grindhouse). More importantly, both Pulp Fiction and Sin City take a love of gangster fiction and reinvent it in striking ways with searingly brilliant writing.
The atmosphere that Sin City evokes is the world of 1940s film noir a stylised world that seems to be predominantly surrounded by shadows and where the streets course with rain; where heroes are violent, weather-beaten men with burned-out emotions; where women are either idyllic angels or dangerous femme fatales; where cops are either dirty or lone men trying to stand up for something in a corrupt world that is lurking with psychopaths and predators; and where morality is a blurred line filled with people grimly struggling to honour often sentimental promises and make a difference. Robert Rodriguez has kept Frank Millers noir-styled dialogue intact and the genres characteristic voiceovers come superbly written. Rodriguez has also kept the ultra-violence of Millers graphic novels, which results in one of the most brutal films that one has seen in some time numerous beatings, bullets through the head, axes to the crotch, severed heads, Bruce Willis ripping off Nick Stahls genitalia twice!!!, a victim with her entire hand having been eaten, a suspect being dragged along out of a car door by Mickey Rourke to get information, Elijah Wood tied up with his arms and legs severed and left to be devoured by a wolf, and such like.
One should not go without mentioning the exceptional cast that Rodriguez has managed to array. Almost all present Bruce Willis, Clive Owen, Jessica Alba, Powers Boothe, Michael Clarke Duncan, Elijah Wood, Carla Gugino, Rutger Hauer, Rosario Dawson give excellent performances. The one standout performance comes from Mickey Rourke. Covered in a K.N.B. makeup job that bulks him to almost resemble The Incredible Hulk, Rourke is almost entirely unrecognizable on screen and gives a brilliant performance as the brutishly psychopathic killer with the heart of gold. To return to the Pulp Fiction analogies above, one predicts that Sin City is likely to be a role that reinvigorates Mickey Rourkes career, which has majorly slumped in the last decade, on the order of John Travoltas performance in Pulp Fiction.
Robert Rodriguez has announced two further Sin City sequels for a number of years, which finally emerged with Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014).
Robert Rodriguezs other films of genre interest are the vampire/getaway thriller From Dusk Till Dawn (1996); the witty teen body snatchers film The Faculty (1998); the juvenile spy adventure Spy Kids (2001) and sequels Spy Kids 2: Island of Lost Dreams (2002), Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over (2003) and Spy Kids: All the Time in the World (2011); the childrens film The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D (2005); the zombie film Planet Terror (2007), half of the Quentin Tarantino collaboration Grindhouse (2007); the childrens film Shorts (2009); and Machete Kills (2013), a sequel to his earlier Mexican-themed action film that frequently enters into science-fiction territory. Rodriguez has also produced From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money (1999), From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangmans Daughter (2000) and Predators (2010), as well as developed the tv series From Dusk Till Dawn (2014 ).
Sin City appears to have made Frank Miller think otherwise about film adaptations and he subsequently okayed the adaptation of 300 (2007), his graphic novel about the Greco-Persian wars of the Fifth Century B.C., which became an adaptation where Zack Snyder pulled off a film that was in every way as visually dazzling as what Robert Rodriguez does here. Miller on his own subsequently went onto direct a film based on the cult comic-book The Spirit (2008) using the same extraordinary visual style here. There was also the animated adaptations of Millers classic graphic novels with Batman: Year One (2011), Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part I (2012) and Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part II (2013), and the live-action sequel 300: Rise of an Empire (2014).
(Winner in this sites Top 10 Films of 2005 list. Winner for Best Directors (Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor (Mickey Rourke) and Nominee for Best Cinematography at this sites Best of 2005 Awards).