You would not want to live in Basin City. You would not want your worst enemy to live in Basin City. Bruce Willis, Mickey Rourke and Clive Owen, on the other hand, seem right at home.
Willis plays John, Basin City's last straight-arrow cop. With one more case to deal with before retirement, he's determined to make it a good one. So he gives no thought to his own well-being as he sets out to save an 11-year-old girl from a sadistic child molester—who just so happens to be the son of a senator.
Rourke becomes Marv, an aging street tough who has finally stumbled on somebody he doesn't want to kill. In fact, Marv just might be falling in love with the beautiful Goldie. But a toss in the sheets ends with Goldie dead when a silent stalker kills her right under Marv's nose. Marv vows revenge.
Owen, meanwhile, brings the suave, not-exactly-law-abiding private investigator Dwight to life, seemingly for the sole purpose of carrying around the severed head of a crooked cop. There's an uneasy truce between Basin City's corrupt law officers and the "girls of Old Town" has ended in a pool of blood, and Dwight must lend aid to a band of machine gun-toting prostitutes.
The three stories eventually weave themselves together ... barely. The connection between them isn't their characters or their stories so much as it is the dark, oppressive—comic-book-inspired—city that serves as their backdrop.
Sin City presents "a universe of unlikely and reluctant heroes still trying to do the right thing in a city that refuses to care," reads a statement in the film's press packet. Put lots of emphasis on trying and that statement is almost true. I'll do my best to give credit where credit is due, but I'm compelled to note, first, that the way each "hero" goes about doing "the right thing" is beyond flawed. It's demented. Still—and I'm typing this as slowly as I can, hoping something might distract me before I can finish the thought—it would be unfair not to acknowledge at least a pair of plusses. ...
John risks his life to protect a girl from harm ("Old man dies. Little girl lives. Fair trade," he says). Years later, he does it again. And he laments that the "truth doesn't always matter like it ought." Dwight also jeopardizes his own safety to help out his friends in Old Town. As for Marv, well, forget about Marv. When you break his character down, he turns out to be just a murder-happy vigilante who's been deprived of his favorite toy—which in this case is a woman. Just because he manages to take out a cannibal or two in the process (yes, you read that right) doesn't cut it in my book.
Marv kills a priest (in a confessional). A cardinal admits to being a cannibal moments before Marv executes him. Crosses and Bibles appear in numerous scenes—and without fail they're associated with death and depravity. It is mentioned that Goldie "serviced" priests. Marv remarks that his "crusade" is "worth dying for; worth killing for; worth going to hell for." He must mean it, because when a prison chaplain begins to read a passage of scripture before the switch is thrown to electrocute Marv, Marv grouses that it's a waste of his time.
Pen-and-ink drawings of nude women in the opening credits serve as a warning to audiences of what's to come. And what comes is a half-dozen or so scenes in which actresses bare their breasts—and most of the rest of their bodies. A heated (partially nude) sexual encounter between Marv and Goldie ends with her lying dead on the bed with her breasts exposed. His subsequent visit to his psychiatrist's house includes mostly nude views of her and her (female) lover. (The camera lingers as one of the women gets out of bed wearing only thong panties.) It's implied that Marv also sleeps with Goldie's identical twin sister, Wendy. When she's 19, the girl John saves tries to get him to have sex with her, touching and kissing him to arouse him. (He takes a cold shower to keep himself in check.)
Some of the film's violence (which I'll tackle next) is sexualized. Dwight and one of his squeezes, Gail, seem to go crazy over each other only when things get amped up. In one scene she snubs him until he smacks her (hard) across the face. She delights in the hitting, and begins kissing him passionately. Much is made of the fact that the serial killer/pedophile can only sexually assault his victims after he tortures them and makes them scream. The film's opening sequence has a killer first kissing and cuddling with his victim before sticking a gun to her ribs and pulling the trigger.
Scenes are shot in a strip club. Hookers, who play a prominent role in the story, wear as little as fishnet body-stockings and as much as skimpy leather lingerie. Extremely crude and obscene banter references sexual acts, homosexuality, castration, rape, sadomasochism and pedophilia.
There's so much it's hard to know where to begin. So I guess now would be as good a time as any to mention that Sin City is directed by Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez with Quentin Tarantino, all of whom have top-notch pedigrees when it comes to creating violent entertainment. Miller is the author of the very violent Sin City graphic novels on which the film is based; and he's the creator of the comic book characters Elektra and Ronin. Rodriguez, while now famous for the PG-rated Spy Kids movies, cut his filmmaking teeth on stomach-turning carnage in films such as El Mariachi and Desperado. Tarantino needs little other introduction than the two words Pulp Fiction; he also helmed both Kill Bill movies.
What do these men bring to the big screen this time? Murder. Suicide. Castration. Torture. Dismemberment. Cannibalism. Because of the stylized, comic book nature of the film, blood flows white, black, red or yellow depending on from whose body it's spilling. Axes, pipes, knives, sledge hammers, arrows and baseball bats are used to cut, rip, stab, bludgeon and chop. And nearly all of it happens onscreen, some of it in slow motion. Heads are lopped off (or into pieces). Eyes are gouged out. Torsos are impaled. Bullets, by the way, seem to do little good in Basin City. Marv, John and Dwight are riddled with them at various times, but death seems to have taken a vacation in some brighter, cheerier locale; it's certainly not doing a good job of putting an end to this all-out assault.
Concerned that Wendy will see too much if she stays to watch him execute Goldie's killer, Marv ushers her back to the car, telling her, "I don't want you to watch the rest; it'll give you nightmares." What about the rest of us? We get no such reprieve as Marv, who has cut off the man's limbs and placed tourniquets on them to prevent him from bleeding to death too quickly, literally feeds him to the dogs. All that's left when it's over is his head, which Marv gleefully carries with him to his next killing appointment.
Marv says he disapproves of hitting or hurting women ("It really gets my goat when guys rough up dames"). But he does both, once knocking Wendy out with a shot to the face. Another woman, who is tied up in a chair, is clobbered so hard she flies through the air. A man hits his girlfriend. And as mentioned already, Dwight strikes Gail to excite her.
Marv drags a man—face down—beside his car. John shoots a man in the crotch to castrate him; later in an appallingly gruesome scene, he crushes and flattens the man's head into the ground with repeated punches, then uses a knife to cut into his crotch before ripping out his genitals.
Cars race and crash. Grenades and small bombs explode (one is placed inside a severed head). A man is hanged. Another is electrocuted. Necks are broken. Face-to-face fisticuffs and beatings are brutal and bloody. Gail bites another woman's neck, tearing away flesh. Jokes are made about turning a man into a PEZ dispenser after he's "almost" decapitated.
Crude or Profane Language
A handful of s-words and more than 75 other crudities and profanities. A dozen times God's name is abused (half of the time His name is combined with "d--n"). Jesus' name is misused four or five times.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Cigarettes dangle from most mouths in most scenes. Drinking is also prevalent. A man who's notorious for drinking is shown drunk, and he also drinks and drives. Drinks litter the tables at clubs. Marv downs prescription pills like they're M&Ms.
Other Negative Elements
A nude woman is seen cowering on the floor of a room which is lined by mounted (stuffed) heads of other women. A man is seen urinating. Twice, "dirty swirlies" are used to punish and torture men; once, a man almost drowns.
So as not to prolong my own agony (or yours) by continuing to dwell on the sordid details of Sin City, I'll condense my conclusion to 10 words Bruce Willis says onscreen: "There's wrong, and then there's wrong, and then there's this."