Controversial topics are brought to the table when speaking of Hollywood film Sin City. The story line appears to be set in the 50s and follows three protagonist characters that are all linked through their femme fatal characters. The filming technique displayed brings rise to the question of whether the movie is film noir or not. Numerous characteristics found in other noir films are traced out in the motion picture. Sin City proves to be a modern take on film noir through scenery, the character roles and filming style.
The first scene of the film shows a beautiful woman standing on a balcony overlooking Sin City. An eerie feel covers the city with bright lights contrasting against the character. She is greeted by a stranger who falsely comforts her to her death. This scene gives the audience their first taste of film noir and foreshadows the scenes to come. The entire movie portrays film noir but there are specific clips that reveal detailed noir technique.
Old town exemplifies film noir scenery the most. The scene utilizes grungy parts of town, corrupt law enforcement and violence; perfect noir elements. Old town “acts to fuse sexual and criminal transgression into a single force field” presenting a “noir schema” (Orr 12). Another clip that demonstrates noir depiction is the pits. The pit’s setting presents a ghostly and squalid appearance much like other noir films.
The introduction of the characters further expresses noir scheme. There are three main protagonist characters that are helpless when their femme fatal falls in need. The film first introduces Hartigan, a cop with a heart condition that tries to save a young girl Nancy from rape and murder. He prevails successful in the beginning and the end of the film, but ultimately dies to protect her. Marv, a maniac hungry for revenge, is introduced second. He slept and fell in love with a woman named Goldie who was killed the following morning. Marv decided he must seek justice in her name. In the end of Marv’s storyline he is killed but gained his avengement by killing Goldie’s murderer. Dwight, the last character introduced, has mental delusions and loves a hooker from Old Town. When their town becomes at risk due to the murder of a cop Dwight quickly steps up to save his loves territory. Although he does not die in the film he is much like the other characters portrayed.
Hartigan, Marv and Dwight are each the perfect ingredients for a noir protagonist. All of the characters are involved with a femme fatal, have a disability and have a weakness for their femme fatal. The femme fatal provides an “addiction to the image [that] becomes the road to potential ruin” (Orr 10). Throughout every storyline the protagonist risks his life in order to help the one he loves. The femme fatal often serves as a “destructive and attractive force inseparable from beauty” (Orr 10). Although this noir female character may provide love and comfort to the unstable protagonist, she ultimately needs him in some way or another. The roles of the femme fatals and protagonists in Sin City definitely resemble traits seen in film noir.
Filming style reveals the final component that makes Sin City a film noir. Several scenes enhance vertical line use. A few scenarios that utilize vertical lines are: Marv looking out the window after Blondie is murdered, Marv trying to get out of the cell at the family farm and Hartigan in his jail cell. High contrast lighting compels another important factor of film noir. This filming technique can be seen very well in the opening scene when the woman stands on the balcony in silhouette overlooking Sin City. As well as low key lighting, Sin City exploits flashbacks. The beginning of the film starts with Hartigan saving Nancy as a young girl then proceeds through Marv and Dwight’s storyline and then back to Hartigan saving Nancy once again as a nineteen year old woman.
Dwight and Marv’s storyline had not yet occurred when Hartigan saves Nancy for the second time, creating a flashback. With all the components of the filming method combined the film obviously exemplifies film noir. Settings are a key factor when creating a movie production and Frank Miller chose an interesting route when selecting the background settings. The settings can nearly resemble a comic book feel. Each of the character’s roles in the film resembles the exact concoction of a film noir character. Almost every role displayed weakness, violence and sympathy. The style of filming is the last ingredient that develops Sin City into the perfect film noir with the use of low vertical lines, low key lighting and flashbacks. Set in an unknown time Sin City reveals that it is, without a doubt a film noir.
Orr, John. “Californian noir: is it European?.” Film International (16516826) 4.23 (2006): 6-17. Film & Television Literature Index with Full Text. EBSCO. Web. 20 Mar. 2011.