So, as predicted, Erasmus & Mrs. E. headed down to the googolplex to check out Sin City. As usual, Erasmus's favorite film critic, Stephanus Prædator, and Gustatus Superus of the Daily Standard are right on the money.
You might say this is contradictory, in that Mr. Hunter offers a qualified rave:
You could call this a pure product of the American death cult. It celebrates revenge of the most violent sort, it features heroes who not merely kill but mutilate, then torture to death their enemies, its view of women is primeval (they be all gun-toting 'ho's), it draws the energy of titillation from breathless examinations of the most profane human behavior (cannibalism, child molestation, rape, ambush-murder), it values toughness above everything, and damn, it's really good.
While Mr. Last is disappointed:
Which just about sums up Sin City: Great gimmicks, but not enough of a payoff.
They both agree, however, on the technical mastery of the film, and the depravity of its content. Hunter, however, enjoys the ride, while Last doesn't think the adaptation carries the weight of the gimmickry.
Erasmus concurs with both, and finds Hunter's phrase, "genius-level junk," to be the most apposite description of the flick he's come across. The phrase resonates with Erasmus because the main question the movie raised to him—other than Deus meus, is Carla Gugino more gorgeous with or without clothes?—was why?
Why did this movie come about? The source material is clearly the gritty true-detective stories of the '30s through '60s (similar to the gialli that Bava brought to the screen), which were pretty worthless to begin with, the lowest of low-cultural product, the cheapest, dullest stuff that could be jammed into a 15¢ paperback. Miller clearly thought them worthy of homage, while sanitizing them of their frequent and ugly misogyny (indeed, adding a weird meretrix-feminist slant), and Rodriguez thought Miller's work worthy of a big-budget, big-screen adaptation.
There's little uplifting, or even particularly true, in any of this, other than the repeated plot that Hunter drolly summarizes as:
It's the one about the tough guy -- he may be a cop, a thug or a killer -- who meets a frail and she touches his heart, gives him something to believe in on this crummy ball of crud we call the planet Earth. But then something happens to her, see, so he goes all righteous with wrath and fury, even at the cost of his own life, fighting the sleaze and the corruption and the cesspool and the depravity and the slime and the muck and the goop and the darkness and the creeps and the scum and the IRS and the -- okay, not the IRS.
So, instead of Nazi doctors sadistically torturing women, we have antiheroes sadistically avenging them. Progress of a sort, perhaps, and a visceral, pagan sort of honor-killing satisfaction, but ultimately one that civilization has to reject. The reader may protest that Basin City is intentionally constructed as uncivilized: all power is corrupt, only one policeman stands as decent, etc. And, indeed, this is a convention of many modern neo-noir films. But the true, fascinating dilemma of classic noir is: what does the good man do in an evil millieu? Only one of the stories approaches this dilemma, and it concludes with a hero's self-sacrifice, and the one (depressing) glimpse of decency in the entire film. The other two protagonists are killers who, do good, sort of, by killing men worse than they. But this is not heroism, but vendetta.
Erasmus doesn't know what it says about modern culture, if anything, that gifted artists like Miller and Rodriguez consider these themes worthy of prolonged meditation and æstheticization, but he doubts it's anything good.
Oh, and the Tarantino scene Erasmus worried about? Quite good. The only genuine bit of (morbid) levity in the film, and a lovely use of color.
As far as the performances go, I echo Mr. Last's praise for Alexis Bledel as the blue-eyed scorta and traditrix, and Bruce Willis is good as Hartigan. And in the words of the late, great Otis Redding, "Ooh, Carla..."
Erasmus finds it hard to rate the film, because although he was disappointed in the plot(s) and theme, he'd probably go again tomorrow if he could to look at all the visuals again. A Mario Bava for the new century? Could be.
So, Erasmus chooses to divide his rating: Imagini, ave; fabulæ non placent.