Apart from his Spy Kids offerings, Rodriguez, like Miller, has always believed in a philosophy of the gore, the merrier -- especially if the sight of a man struggling to retrieve a gun from his severed hand will elicit a groan of disgust and a giggle born of watching a thing taken too far. He devotedly, almost slavishly adheres to Miller's vision of a black-and-white world tinged with only brief respites of color -- the putrid bright-yellow skin that covers Nick Stahl's pedophiliac murderer, the blood-red bed on which hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold Goldie (Jaime King) gives herself to psycho killer Marv (Mickey Rourke).
Miller has always walked in the muddy footsteps of comic creators Chester Gould, Milt Caniff, Will Eisner and Johnny Craig, but he is equally inspired by the film noir of the 1940s. The transformation of Sin City into a movie almost seems redundant. It's impressive to see Rodriguez take a black-and-white panel and make it bleed red, but it's also a little distancing; you never quite forget you're watching one master ape another.
Rodriguez clearly assumes Sin City to be his Pulp Fiction, a blending of disparate tales that forms a complete, overwhelming epic. But he's burdened with three novellas with themes that repeat themselves. Each story goes something like this: A flawed man with a horrible past puts himself through hell in order to rescue and/or avenge a saintly and/or sinful woman threatened by the well-connected underworld that runs Sin City. Repeat. Then repeat again.
In one, medicated superman Marv -- Rourke beneath makeup that renders his face the texture of blasted rock -- slugs his way through brick walls to find the men who killed poor, dear Goldie. Along the way, he stumbles into a cannibal creepo named Kevin (Elijah Wood) and a powerful clergyman (Rutger Hauer) who dines on his leftovers. In another segment, Dwight (Owen), a killer with a new face and old fingerprints, buries the body parts of a twisted hero cop named Jack (Benicio Del Toro) in the tar pits in order to protect the whores who run the crime alley Old Town. Dwight begins the night defending his girlfriend, a waitress named Shellie (Brittany Murphy), from Jack. By morning, he and the women of Old Town are laying waste an army of hit men and mobsters controlled by Michael Clarke Duncan's Manute, whose right eye is made of solid gold.
Of the three stories, the most evocative and resonant is the one featuring Willis' good cop John Hartigan, whose rescue of a little girl from a vicious kiddie-rapist named Junior (Stahl) early in the film is revisited at the end. Hartigan is the most noble of Miller's characters, a detective with a bum ticker who sacrifices his shot at cozy retirement to protect a little girl who grows up to be Jessica Alba. In Sin City, he's the man with the most to lose; unlike Marv or Dwight, he needs no redemption, merely a heart that will stop betraying him at inopportune moments. When Hartigan again confronts Junior, now mutated into a fluorescent freak, we're at once thrilled and terrified. The small moment of triumph is muted by a larger horror and the sad inevitability of the doom that has taken up residence in Sin City.