This week in the Information Store, we’re celebrating graphic novels and manga, so what better film to review than one of the most stylish and edgy graphic novel adaptations ever?
Content warning: Sin City has violent and graphic content that can be distressing
When most people think of graphic novels, they usually think of weekly comics about superheroes like Superman, Batman, and Spiderman, but there are lots of artists and writers who use the graphic novel format, with its panels and speech-bubble dialogue, to tell very different kinds of stories, often challenging and complex (and often for mature readers). Frank Miller’s Sin City is an anthology graphic novel which weaves together a number of stories inspired by the hardboiled detective, film noir and exploitation genres, and when Robert Rodriguez adapted it for film in 2005, he deliberately shot a lot of the film to echo the panels of Miller’s comic.
Miller is also known in the comic book world for his work on Batman and Daredevil, responsible for the famously dark Batman storyline The Dark Knight Returns (QUICK READS Graphic Novels 741.5973) and creating the character of Elektra, Daredevil’s foemance, as well as the comic (also adapted into a film) 300. The graphic novel of Sin City is violent and filled with mature content and themes, and the film doesn’t skimp on that (hence the 18 certificate).
Packed with great actors, Sin City weaves together several stories in the same city which brush past each other but never interact. Hartigan (Bruce Willis) is an aging police officer who stops a child molester from murdering a young girl, Nancy Callahan (Jessica Alba), but the perpetrator’s rich and corrupt family pervert the course of justice and send him to prison. Years later, he learns that Nancy is in trouble again and stakes his life and his reputation to try and save her. Marv (Mickey Rourke) is a violent thug who is framed for the murder of a prostitute that he is in love with. He won’t stop until he finds out who did it, no matter how many people get hurt along the way, and encounters a disturbing serial killer (Elijah Wood). Dwight (Clive Owen) teams up with a gang of sex workers, the Girls of Old Town, to stand up to a cruel mobster called Jackie Boy (Benicio Del Torro), but violence only leads to more violence, especially when it turns out that Jackie Boy isn’t quite who he seems.
Sin City is grim and horrifying, but it also has moments of humour, pathos and ridiculous fun. It was directed by Miller and Robert Rodriguez, and they deliberately recreate lots of the iconic panels from the comic almost exactly. It blends Rodriguez’s ultra-violent stylishness with Miller’s hardboiled and noir feel to look like no other film. The whole film, like the graphic novel, is in black and white with splashes of colour to emphasise moments of importance. It’s considered one of the most successful graphic novel adaptations ever.
One stand out performance is Rosario Dawson as Gail, the tough-as-nails leader of the Girls of Old Town, who also coincidentally also played a role in the recent Netflix adaptation of Daredevil for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Dawson is a big comic book fan and co-created a comic series called Occult Crimes Taskforce.
Find Sin City in the DVD LOBBY at 791.43. It is an 18 certificate DVD.
If you liked this…
Frank Miller’s graphic novel 300 tells the (highly fictionalised) story of the Spartan army at the Battle of Thermopylae against overwhelming odds. While Miller has been criticised heavily for his historical inaccuracies (including the fact that the graphic novel implies the Spartans stood alone, while in fact there were a lot of other Greek soldiers with them, and the Spartans’ homophobic attitudes towards the Athenians), particularly by fellow graphic novel writer Alan Moore, there is no denying that 300 (BOOK ZONE 741.5973) and the film adaptation of the same name (DVD LOBBY 791.43) are great stories.
Alan Moore’s legacy as a graphic novel artist is huge, but he is probably most famous for Watchmen (BOOK ZONE 741.5973), a grim story about a world where superheroes are banned. Try the similarly violent adaptation directed by Zack Snyder, who also directed the adaptation of 300 (DVD LOBBY 791.43).
Learn more about the history of graphic novels with Tales To Astonish (BOOK ZONE 741.5) or the science behind the mask with The Science of Superheroes (BOOK ZONE 741.5). Superman on the Couch (NORFOLK HOUSE 741.5) looks at graphic novels as a symptom of society’s obsessions.
Mummery, F. (2011) Sin City. Available at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/73014677@N05/6662245419 (Downloaded: 19/11/15)