A Live-Action Cartoon

Sin City

When I think about Sin City, the memory is of watching a cartoon. Not merely a striking approximation of the graphic novel on celluloid, but animation; it seems as if what I saw involved no live actors.

In terms of tone and aesthetics, that’s a compliment to Robert Rodriguez, who “shot and cut” the movie and shares its director’s credit with legendary comic-book scribe Frank Miller. In every other way, it’s a criticism. While Sin City is a joy to look at, it’s also facile, juvenile, and so full of its unquestionable hipness that it’s impossible to take seriously. I enjoyed the movie, but I was left asking: Why was this made?

Sin City’s three major plots could not be more simple, and once you adjust to the visual style, you’re left with nothing to ponder but nonexistent characters and carnage-filled stories that might fill the journals of maladjusted high-school boys who fantasize about dismembering their classmates. The movie is so hateful toward humanity that it’s laughable. Why bother saving somebody when the whole world is a cesspool?

I’m no moralist. I love James Ellroy and his hyper-stylized language, dark vision of the world, and brutal action. But Ellroy’s trump card is his way with plots — dense, labyrinthine, and at once chaotic and meticulously designed. Because he so involves the reader in the story, he’s forgiven for writing as if he’s a sadistic misanthrope. Rodriguez and Miller don’t earn that free pass.

Sin City clearly aspires to be this decade’s Pulp Fiction, but it’s lacking verbal wit, a purpose to its fractured structure, and heart. Most of the characters in the movie have a heart, but we know this only from all the blood that spurts, gushes, and sprays from their opened veins and arteries.

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