Director Robert Rodriguez collaborated with creator Miller to bring the pages of the Sin City graphic novels to life. The duo went so far as to use the panels from the original comic as the storyboards for the film, as well as lifting dialogue from the book itself.
“The books are so visually bold, they don’t look like anything else out there,” Rodriguez explains. This translates beautifully to the screen, and makes for a film that is so consciously stylized that it is wholly unique in the realm of film.”
This is no small feat, since the comic is recognized as one of the most twisted and dark stories around, as well as one of the most brutal. “The violence isn’t really a problem, because everything is so stylized,” says Rodriguez, beaming.
The film adapts three stories from the novels, and tells them almost in sequence. This allows the excellent cast an opportunity to shine, without being intercut within other stories.
The film’s story arcs follow Bruce Willis as a hardened cop (which he somehow manages to make feel fresh again, though he has played the part many times before), Mickey Rourke as a borderline insane, superhumanly homicidal criminal, and Clive Owen as a private investigator who seems to stumble into trouble wherever he goes. Also featured are Rosario Dawson, Jessica Alba, Benicio Del Toro, Brittany Murphy, Elijah Wood and Nick Stahl.
The cast members were attracted by the unique nature of the film, but were in for a surprise when they arrived on set – there was no set. Instead, the entire film was shot on a green screen, and the backgrounds inserted in postproduction. This was something that uniformly excited the actors, once they had gotten over their preoccupations about being the only non-digital elements in a shot. Owen explains, “You get this real sense of achievement when you realize you’ve nailed the impact of the image from the book.”
Owen’s section is undoubtedly the coolest part in a movie very sure of its own coolness. When a murdered cop’s (Del Toro) corpse threatens to destroy a truce between the police and the girls who Owen’s Dwight calls friends, he takes it upon himself to clean up the situation. He is charged with disposing of the body, and finds himself having a conversation with the dead man on his way out of town.
This scene, which was “special guest-directed” by Quentin Tarantino, is a highlight of the film. It shows a real heart of gold in the hardboiled Dwight, leaving him often as the audience’s favorite character. Before his vignette is over, Dwight has been almost killed in every possible way, but manages to keep his cool throughout. Even as he is being drowned in tar his calm voiceover narrates his situation as if he is describing an afternoon trip to the park.
In fact, throughout the film, the best aspects of classic noir are picked up in characters’ voiceovers, which are then twisted in Miller’s warped mind and spit back out as relevant to our modern world. The result is that Sin City is a location that the viewer visits, but would never want to live.
The whole attitude of the film is summed up in a piece of Dwight’s thoughts as he stares out into the digital rain: “You’ve got to prove to your friends that you’re worth a damn. Sometimes it means dying. Sometimes it means killing a whole lotta people.”