Apparently there are a lot of Frank Miller fans who think Sin City is a groundbreaking movie because of how well it has been translated to the screen. This may or may not be true, I can't judge that, never having read any of Frank Miller's stuff. When I watched the film, I was coming in with no big preconceived ideas beyond having seen the trailer (very cool) and having read a few reviews (mostly very positive).
I found myself unable to enjoy much of Sin City, which surprised me. I think I'm pretty good at appreciating a movie for what the director is trying to do and not for whether I necessarily agree with it. I can appreciate light entertainment as well as more serious stuff. I've seen lots of movies, some very different, and Sin City is up there with only two or three other ones that I was just unable to like.
Dammit, I hate it when that happens.
There are movies that don't live up to my expectations. I generally consider this my fault and try not to hold it against the movie. (Incidentally, I think most comic book adaptations fall into this category for comic book fans, which IMHO is their loss.) There are movies that I partially or mostly understand - most movies fit in this category. Then there are movies that I don't understand at all. Don't usually feel comfortable holding that against them either, most of the time. Finally we've got movies that I think I understand too well. This is where you'll find all of the ones I really dislike - all two or three of them. Their crime is mostly in being too boring and shallow to be entertaining. Sin City is one of those movies.
The visuals were pretty nice overall. The use of color was very cool and so were the parts where the contrast was turned up until the white positively glowed, and the bits where they did the full contrast silhouettes, but a lot of it was a pretty mundane grayscale. Honestly, if asked to point to something really revolutionary or unique in visual presentation I'd choose the rotoscoping techniques used in Waking Life and the upcoming A Scanner Darkly.
The visual style and composition itself is of course straight out of the [comic book|graphic novel], and has all the benefits and drawbacks that that entails. Yeah, that's right, drawbacks. Others have gone over that in more detail, suffice it to say that it fits with the rest of the movie, and is probably it's greatest triumph. So too with the dialog. Pretty cheesy, but that's noir for ya. Probably works better in print.
Ken Tucker of New York Magazine thinks that Sin City has "a thrilling undercurrent of morality." He's right about the undercurrent of morality, although I disagree about how thrilling it is. Despite all the noise about "it's just mindless entertainment", I think that among the people who like this film there are a lot more who agree with him than not. Hollywood puts out lots of big budget mindless entertainment that utterly bombs, because at the end of the day there is such a thing as entertainment that just fails to connect with the viewer on any meaningful level. Face it, if you really liked this movie it's due in significant part to the theme, the gestalt, or the message if you prefer. 99% of you are like me, that is not sophisticated film connoisseurs appreciating it purely for it's artistic merit, whatever that means - quit kidding yourself.
Ultimately, I think what bugs me is the movie's lack of reflection. By and large it takes itself seriously, this is after all, adopted from graphic novels aimed squarely at adults. Not to say there is no humor (because there is some) or that none of the characters have fun doing what they do (because many of them obviously do), but ultimately there is an underlying theme here that takes itself seriously. It's a view of truth, good and evil, that is simple, sharp, and unselfconsciously dumb.
Take Marv's easy tracking down of Goldie's killer. How'd he do it so quickly and easily? Torture baby, the gateway to truth, reserved for those with the strength of character to use it. Take Hartigan's feelings for Nancy. He knows she's being immature falling in love with him, but, eh, why not indulge - it's easy. Take Miho's deconstruction of Jackie Boy and his groupies - about as difficult (and as interesting to watch) as pulling legs off a bug. Take Marv's defeat of Kevin, the end of the only halfway good fight scene in the entire movie. Once he slaps the handcuff on it's all over - because Kevin just stands there. His fighting style is so limited that when his one trick is taken away he suffers a total paralyzing failure of imagination - he doesn't even have the werewithal to take a swipe to the face with his other hand as Marv stands there, gloatingly monologuing like a dumbass. Just like that the movie removes much of your respect for Kevin, and by implication, Marv's victory.
I found it hard to respect any of the characters in the movie, really. Marv's too dumb to realize that the "angel" he wants to die for was using him - either that or he's got so little self-respect that he doesn't care. Hartigan's got a real jealousy problem with regards to Yellow Bastard. Dwight just likes to hang around the 'ho's in Old Town like a leech eagerly waiting to be needed, a desire the movie is happy to meet. The fems are all wimpy wenches, paper tigers, or backstabbing bitches, with the exception of Miho. Gail has her moments, but in the end she's just another 'ho, hanging off Dwight's chest with stars in her eyes, safe from the big bad world in the arms of her man. These characters know how to look like badasses, but at heart they don't really know what it means. They have no respect for themselves, and no desire for it. They are not sympathetic because they do not want to be sympathetic. In the end, they just want the easy way out, and the movie gives it to 'em. When you know you can't beat your enemy, just pop a cap in your forhead and save them the trouble. Yeah, that's gonna work. Loser.
In the end it's just too shallow and boring to entertain me. Maybe I've lost contact with my inner insecure cynic, but if I want to see ugly truth I'll probably watch Saving Private Ryan or something. If I want to see cool visuals or good action I'll watch Crouching Tiger or The Matrix, or any number of better movies.
Gratuitous political statement: In the era of outrage over Abu Ghraib and perceived American military excesses, you'd think there'd be a little less endorsement of the effectiveness of torture and a little more curiosity about the differences between fighting evil and being evil, especially from the ostensibly leftward leaning Hollywood crowd. Oh yeah, that's right, it's just a movie. No one really believes that crap.
Well I know I don't, and it ruined the movie for me. Ah well, that's the way it goes sometimes.
On exaggeration: Yeah it's pulp, yeah it's supposed to be over the top, but exaggeration is just a style, a technique. I have no problem with exaggeration, but I can be annoyed or bored by the thing being exaggerated if it's lame enough. Digital shooting and editing (both incredibly wonderful things) are both forms of exaggeration themselves, ways of enhancing and amplifying a director's creativity. So much the worse if the director has little to say that's not inane.