Pull up a chair, bub, and let me spin you a yarn.
A tale about a type of movie that only comes around every so often. A bloody, violent, neo-noir comic book come to life, Sin City was written by Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller. Miller is the creator of the comic book the movie is based on. Rodriguez and Miller share directing credits as well. There’s also a credit for Special Guest Director Quentin Tarantino. (According to Wikipedia, Tarantino directed one of the car chase sequences.)
From the opening scene of this star-studded film you know you’re about to watch a movie unlike anything you’ve seen before. From Marley Shelton wearing a bright red dress and red lipstick in a sea of monochrome, to Alexis Bledel’s eyes glowing blue against a world in shades of gray you know you’re in for a movie that has something to say about the mean streets of Basin City.
Now, if one wants to take a drive down to Basin City for an ill-advised getaway, one must know the types of people one might meet.
Assassin The Man (Josh Hartnett) approaches a woman on the balcony of what appears to be a high class, socialite party. The woman (Marley Shelton) and The Man’s sensual flirtations end with a kiss and a gunshot to the woman’s gut. She isn’t just a woman, she’s a customer, and the services she purchased were death.
She’s running from something. What, the Man doesn’t care. He fulfills his promise to his customer. She wanted a way out but she didn’t want to go alone. And so the Man shows his softer side and holds her in his arms while she dies.
What a peach.
A hard-boiled cop with a heart of gold who goes by the name Hartigan (Bruce Willis). Hartigan is by the book, determined, and stubborn, a deadly combination in Basin City. Which is why he’s decided to use the last hour (literally) he has on the job before his retirement due to a bum ticker to show up at the docks looking to save an 11-year-old-girl named Nancy, who is currently being held at the hands of a murderous rapist named Roark Jr. (Nick Stahl).
He’s determined to save Nancy even if it kills him. A decision he may soon come to regret.
Fighting off his wickedly persistent heart issue, Hartigan finds the girl, blows off Roark Jr.’s hand, and shoots him in the babymaker. (Not cool under normal circumstances, but I think the brutality of Junior’s crimes make it more than okay.)
But not all is good because Hartigan’s partner (Michael Madsen), double crosses him and pumps lead into his back (and his front) a total of nine times. But Hartigan stalls long enough for backup to arrive. He knows little Nancy will be okay now and so he feels good about dying.
His life for hers. Fair trade.
But death doesn’t come knocking today. Instead, Hartigan wakes up in a hospital. Roark’s father, Senator Roark (the amazingly named Powers Boothe) lets Hartigan know Roark Jr. is alive, his wounds having been surgically repaired, albeit with some side effects. Hartigan is going to be framed to take the fall for all of Junior’s crimes, as well as some they just plain made up. A bad beat to say the least.
Hartigan is still in jail. Having received letters from Nancy for the last eight years (under the nom de plume, Cordelia), a day comes when a letter doesn’t. It’s a blow to the gut for Hartigan. An even bigger metaphorical fist to the kidney comes when a severed finger arrives. They found her. He doesn’t know how, but they found her.
Hartigan does the only thing he can in order to get out of prison. He confesses to the crimes he was falsely accused of in order to get out on parole with time served. His life is now ruined.
But Hardigan doesn’t care about himself or his life. The only person he cares about is Nancy. Skinny, little Nancy Callahan. And so he tracks her down to a bar, expecting to find that same, bookish little girl he remembered from those eight long years ago.
Nancy (Jessica Alba) is all grown up, shaking her assets for dollars from pockets of greasy bar patrons. She doesn’t notice Hartigan at first, as she gyrates on stage to the creepy leers of some of the hardest people in Basin City. But Nancy’s not a lifer in this place, she’s just using the coke-dusted dollars to put toward law school, as suggested by the copious law books lying around her apartment.
She finally looks up to notice… Hartigan. The man who saved her life when she was a child. She leaps off the stage and kisses Hartigan passionately.
Which, first off, gross.
Second off, what she doesn’t realize, is she just gave herself away. See, what Hartigan didn’t put together until it was too late, was the finger in the mail was a bluff. They didn’t know where Nancy was. They just needed Hartigan to lead them right to her. Now, Nancy and Hartigan have to go, because someone is trying to kill her…
This yellow bastard desperately wants to kill Nancy and Hartigan. But why? Who the hell is this guy anyway? We find out when he tracks Nancy and Hartigan to a nearby hotel (where more gross kissing occurs) and gets the jump on them. Hartigan recognizes the bastard’s voice, just as the yellow prick knew he would.
It’s Roark Jr.
Guess ol’ dad undersold those side effects.
The bastard hits the bricks with Nancy in tow, leaving Hartigan to hang from the rafters, a rope around his neck. Yellow Bastard takes Nancy to… “The Farm.” The Farm is owned by the Roark family and is the scene of many a grisly crime, as we’ll become all too familiar with later on.
There, he goes about lashing Nancy with a whip, shouting at her to scream. She’s only making it worse by not screaming. But Nancy won’t scream. Because she knows. This yellow jackass can’t get aroused unless his victims scream. And so she doesn’t. And that only makes the ol’ yellow jerkoff angrier. Ready to do his worst.
That’s when Hartigan shows up.
What the yellow asshat didn’t know is that while he was drooling over his latest victim, Hartigan tightened up his neck, swung to a window, broke the glass, grabbed some of that glass with his feet, then used the glass to cut himself down.
Seriously, he did all that just to save Nancy. Goddamn hero.
Now that he’s got the upper hand, Hartigan goes to work on Roark Jr. 2.0. First, he… let’s just say, relieves the yellow bastard of his family jewels. He then punches Junior’s head into mush. He did it again. He saved little Nancy Callahan.
But Hartigan knows Nancy will always be looking over her shoulder while he’s alive. And so, he does the only thing he knows to do in order to keep her safe.
A lug in a long trench coat. A hard man with a harder face. Marv (Mickey Rourke) gets “confused.” Often fighting off bouts of hallucinations and paranoia. It doesn’t help that the woman he spends an amazing night with, Goldie (Jaime King) winds up dead the next morning by someone else’s hand, the cops beating down the door. Whoever did this frame-up job is going to wish they hadn’t.
In a feat of amazing strength, Marv takes out what looks to be an entire precinct of cops before getting away. He swears he’ll get his revenge for Goldie. After putting the hurt on two hitmen, a club owner, and a priest, he finds out about a farm on the outskirts of town…
The Roark family farm.
Kevin (Elijah Wood) is a simple man. A man of few words, all Kevin wants to do is kill and eat women and mount their heads on the wall like they’re trophies. Is that so wrong? (Editor’s note: YES. It’s very, very wrong. It couldn’t be more wrong.)
Kevin discovers Marv sneaking onto the Roark family property. Marv realizes right away this is the guy who killed Goldie and he wants his revenge, but a sledgehammer to the side of the head puts Marv to sleep. He wakes up in a dank basement. But no brick wall or barred windows can keep Marv in. He breaks out and is back on the hunt for Kevin.
Like Marv, Wendy (Jaime King again) is out for revenge. Also like Marv, Wendy is looking to put down whoever killed her twin sister, Goldie. The man who was with Goldie the night she died?
Wendy tracks Marv to Old Town, an area of Basin City that’s run completely by women. No cops. The ladies of Old Town do their own policing. There, Marv is shot and pistol-whipped for what they think he did to Goldie.
But when Marv explains what really happened, he and Wendy head back to the farm to put an end to this whole thing once and for all. Wendy hangs back while Marv ferrets Kevin out by setting the house on fire. A quick, bloody fight ends with Kevin unconscious on the ground.
Wendy wants to kill Kevin real bad. Get revenge for her sister. But Marv has more sinister plans. With Wendy pressuring to kill Kevin herself, Marv knocks her out so he can go about his business. Which is probably good for Wendy, because she doesn’t have to witness what happens next.
Marv, having cut off Kevin’s arms and legs and tied him to a tree, waits patiently for Kevin’s dog to whiff the scent of blood in the air. The hungry animal, used to eating the human scraps fed to him by Kevin, arrives salivating. It’s not long before the dog goes to work, leaving nothing behind but Kevin’s adorable little head.
A man of the cloth. A man of God. A man who eats women. Cardinal Roark (Rutger Hauer) is awakened from his slumber when Marv arrives with a gift.
Kevin’s severed head.
Backed into a corner with no way out, Cardinal Roark understands his time has come. He confesses not only to Kevin’s crimes but that he also participated in the eating. They did so together, to eat the women’s souls in a deranged moment of religious absurdity.
Though we don’t see the dirty deed, the blood spatter on Marv’s face gives us a hint as to how grisly the Cardinal’s end must be. Just as Marv’s finishing up his blood-letting, a SWAT team shows up and unloads several dozen bullets into Marv, conveniently missing every major organ.
Marv is caught and told if he doesn’t sign the confession for the murders of Kevin, Cardinal Roark, Goldie, and the women who wound up as midnight snacks, they’re going to kill his mother. This gets Marv to sign the confession. He then gets sent to the gas chamber, where he dies knowing he did what he set out to do.
He got revenge for Goldie.
A murderer with a new face. Dwight (Clive Owen) seems capable of showing only one emotion… I’m going to kick your ass. Despite this, Dwight’s still a human and as a human, he has needs, which is why he goes back to the apartment of one of the waitresses at a strip club he frequents, Shellie (Brittany Murphy).
Their evening is interrupted when one of Shellie’s former one night stands, Jackie Boy (Benicio del Toro) shows up, looking for more than Shellie’s willing to give.
Concerned Jackie Boy and his goons might hurt someone, Dwight follows them down to Old Town, where they try and threaten a sex worker named Becky (Alexis Bledel). His intentions nefarious, Jackie Boy doesn’t know how much he stepped in it, because now he’s at the mercy of the ladies of Old Town.
Gail (Rosario Dawson) and her ladies run Old Town, doling out sex services and the law in equal measure. When Jackie Boy shows up waving a gun at one of the ladies, the law in Old Town turns him into a Pez dispenser. That’s when Dwight and Gail realize just exactly who it was they killed.
A cop. A crooked cop, but a cop nonetheless. And if anybody finds out the ladies of Old Town killed a cop, it will break the truce that’s allowed the women to run their city without interference from pimps, cops, or the mob. Now, with Jackie Boy dead, all that may come to an end.
So, they gotta get rid of the body.
Dwight takes Jackie Boy and his gang to “The Pit,” a dinosaur-statue-riddled tar pit on the outskirts of town. The cops won’t search the pits for Jackie Boy’s body. It’s a foolproof plan until he’s ambushed by Irish mercenaries who are being paid a pretty penny for the return of ol’ Jackie Boy’s head, proof of Old Town’s transgression.
Dwight follows the mercenaries down into a sewer where he gets the head back. Now, it’s time to take care of business.
Gail runs Old Town along with her merry band of scantily clad women. While Dwight is off getting shot and blown up by the mercenaries, Gail has a run-in with the mob, who threatens her life if she doesn’t negotiate the surrender of Old Town. Becky begs Gail to listen and that’s when it all hits home.
Becky is a rat.
She told the mob about Jackie Boy’s death, knowing it would mean an end to Old Town. She did it because she wanted a way out. A better life. But now, she’s hip deep in just as much excrement as the other ladies. Even when Dwight shows up looking to exchange Gail and Becky’s life for the head of Jackie Boy, things still look grim.
That is, until Dwight reveals his plan to Gail. He’s lured the mob into a narrow alley, only one way out. The ladies arrive on the rooftops above, armed to bear. It’s like shooting sitting ducks in a barrel. During the firefight, Becky is winged by a bullet, but she gets away.
Or does she?
As Becky makes her way through the hospital after being bandaged up from her gunshot, she enters the elevator where there’s a man already inside. Not just any man, The Man. He offers the frightened Becky a cigarette as the screen goes black.
Guess Becky’s getting that way out after all.