No need for clocks, weathermen or juries in Basin City--Sin City to you. It's always night, always raining and every dispute is resolved personally, often by a bullet to the groin. Men are the walking wounded, with scarred faces and psyches. Women are trophies, to fight for, possess or smash. Noir doesn't get gnarlier than in the corpse operas of Frank Miller's graphic novels or Robert Rodriguez's ultra-vivid movie of three of them.
Inspired by the finest 1950s junk fiction--Mickey Spillane's gun-crazy P.I. Mike Hammer and Al Feldstein's EC SuspenStories comics--Miller tells tales of misfit heroes seeking redemption by rescuing damsels in distress. Hartigan (Bruce Willis, untoppable at slipping into the skin of doomed tough guys) is a cop on a mission to save sweet Nancy (Jessica Alba) from a serial killer. Marv (Mickey Rourke, whose fallen-angel smile peeks through pounds of makeup) is an ex-con avenging the death of the one beautiful woman who ever did him a favor. Dwight (sturdy, haunted Clive Owen), on the lam from the law, protects the city's only honorable citizens: the hookers.
You will be reminded of Pulp Fiction, with its three overlapping stories, its code of honor among thugs, even a grisly-comic car ride with a corpse. Aptly, that scene was "guest-directed" by Quentin Tarantino. It's just one rule that Sin City flouts. The film has no script credit, and Rodriguez resigned from the Directors Guild so Miller could co-direct. But the film follows one rule explicitly: it is the comic book. Same dialogue, points of view, settings, same black-and-white look dabbed with splashes of blood--except the movie moves and makes noise. Lots of noise; beautiful moves.
The cool thing about this digital scare-scape is how fidelity to Miller's vision liberated Rodriguez and the cast. Everyone has a great time playing it hard and fast. For all its astronomical body count, Sin City is brazenly, thrillingly alive. --By Richard Corliss