In the town of Basin City, corruption, sleaze and violence prevail. The Man sets the scene with a quick dispatching of a lady of the evening, but the focus shifts over to Hartigan and Bob, who are chasing after Roark Jr. to prevent him from attacking a young woman. When Bob crosses him to stop his pursuit, Hartigan falls to the ground with a bad heart, but not before giving the girl the chance to run away. Surviving the attack and prison, he eventually gets out with the chance to pursue the senator’s son. Meanwhile, Marv is a man under the spell of the beautiful Goldie, but when he wakes up from a night of passion, she is lying dead in bed with him. Marv escapes police pursuit and capture on a remote farm and begins his pursuit to determine who was responsible for her death, but not before running into her sister, Wendy. In another apartment across the city, Dwight and his new girlfriend, Shellie, are hanging out in her apartment when a gang, led by Jackie Boy, arrive to abuse her and her place. When Dwight breaks up the threat, he follows the rest of the gang into Old Town to stop them from harming any of the other girls.
Starring: Jessica Alba (Nancy Callahan), Devon Aoki (Miho), Alexis Bledel (Becky), Powers Boothe (Senator Roark), Rosario Dawson (Gail), Benicio Del Toro (Jackie Boy), Michael Clarke Duncan (Manute), Tommy Flanagan (Brian), Rick Gomez (Klump), Carla Gugino (Lucille), Josh Hartnett (The Man), Rutger Hauer (Cardinal Roark), Evelyn Hurley (Josie), Nicky Katt (Stuka), Jamie King (Goldie/Wendy), Michael Madsen (Bob), Jason McDonald (Ronnie), Frank Miller (Priest), Brittany Murphy (Shellie), Nick Offerman (Shlubb), Clive Owen (Dwight), Mickey Rourke (Marv), Mary Shelton (Customer), Nick Stahl (Roarke Jr.), Arie Verveen (Murphy), Bruce Willis (Hartigan), Elijah Wood (Kevin)
The cast is almost too large to give them all justice for their performances. While some of the leading men play their roles to their strengths (Willis, Rourke, Del Toro, Owen), there were a couple of great surprises. Without ever having to say a word, Elijah Wood plays arguably the most menacing character of the film. It is something about the artistic style with the shine on his glasses and emotional stare that makes his performance scary. Jessica Alba, Rosario Dawson, Jamie King and Devon Aoki all have their sensual appeal, but each brings a darker side to their roles, though some of that darkness is well hidden (such as in the case of Alba). Nick Stahl serves up a truly vile performance to match his character well.
Frank Miller’s comics are already rather dark in their panel by panel presentation, but he translated the darkness to the big screen rather well. The tale is told under four main storylines. The Customer is Always Right is a very short element that appears at both the start and end of the film, giving the impression that The Man is basically a hit man who takes out potential problems for powerful people. That Yellow Bastard follows the framing of Hartigan, the growing up in a harsh environment and still staying somewhat innocent by Nancy and the sleazy control of the Roark family. Hartigan is constantly plagued by his failing heart but always determined to do the right thing, uttering “an old man dies, a young woman lives, a fair trade.” Roark Jr., obsessed with sex with young women, deformed himself to repair the damage done by Hartigan before his arrest. The Hard Goodbye followed the mission of a man looking to avenge the death of the love of his life. He discovered that the sleaze and atrocious acts go much deeper than one woman’s death, which takes him to a farm guarded by the sinister Kevin before going after the Roark family. The Big Fat Kill is a little less focused on the destruction of one depraved man and instead the protection of Old Town’s gang of women. He believes that he is more powerful or deadly than most and has his perceptions knocked down when he realizes the strength of these women.
A review of this film would be incomplete without a discussion of the presentation of the story. Set mostly in black and white, Frank Miller has bits and pieces of characters and scenes with splashes of color to represent each of the important symbols. A good example is the golden hair of Goldie, as she is the idolized woman for Marv. The putrid yellow of Roark Jr. also highlights his putrid personality. The blue eyes of Becky give a sense of the glimmer of innocence of her character. At times, the blood is grayed out, but there are a few moments when there is more significance to represent the carnage with a brighter red. There are some other elements that have a bright white shine to them to give them an extra accent, such as scars, glasses and crosses. The sounds of Basin City are filled with sirens, gunshots and a feeling of a civilization descending deeper into darkness.
For those who are turned off by graphic novels, this may not be your type of film. The translation of the comic into a feature film is rather mesmerizing and you can easily be drawn into the story.
Dan’s Rating: 4.0/5