"The Hard Goodbye" is the story of Marv (Mickey Rourke), a behemoth with a screwed-up face and penchant for payback. The one time that Marv finds something like love with a beauty named Goldie (Jamie King), he wakes to find her dead beside him. He promises to avenge her and leaves a trail of bodies on his way to the perpetrators. This sequence, with Rourke as its anchor, is the best of the three, owing mostly to Rourke himself, his face hidden behind prosthetics, in a standout performance. Rourke's take on Marv, a man who has no qualms about using a hatchet to make a point, is imbued with a sense of pathos, even romanticism, which exists easily alongside a lug-headed wit and wanton brutality.
"The Big Fat Kill" is the tale of Dwight ("Closer's" Clive Owen), a private eye on the lam. A sort of knight in dingy armor and red sneakers, Dwight gets on the wrong side of Jackie Boy (Benicio Del Toro), a crooked cop, who himself gets on the wrong side of the ladies of Old Town, who relieve him of most of his body parts. Knowing this will spark a war with the cops, Dwight attempts to save them but only digs the hole deeper.
Lastly there is the story called "That Yellow Bastard," in which John Hartigan (Bruce Willis), the single good cop in Sin City, attempts to save 11-year-old Nancy Callahan from the clutches of the twisted Junior/Yellow Bastard (Nick Stahl, "Terminator 3"), pedophile son of a powerful Senator.
There are a myriad of supporting characters filling out Miller's roaming storylines, each weirder than the last. From the A-list cameos (Josh Hartnett as The Man; Elijah Wood as a demonic cannibal) to B-players in more fleshed-out appearances (Rutger Hauer as the twisted Cardinal), all roles are played with requisite aplomb.
Visually, Rodriguez has applied his considerable technical skills to effectively translate Miller's color-splashed black-and-white graphics to the screen as literally as possible. Much of the scenery is rendered, but this is no "Sky Captain" -- "Sin City" has pizzazz. The score, for which Rodriguez takes co-credit (along with some eight other credits), is possibly the film's weakest component. It is in the proper mode, but lacks a driving force that would have been energizing, especially in the early sequences. As for Tarantino, his guest direction is restricted to a single scene in "The Big Fat Kill" sequence, which nevertheless bears his stamp.
It is almost certain that those who are familiar with writer/artist Frank Miller's "Sin City" series of graphic novels will most thoroughly enjoy the film with the particular glee unique to the die-hard fan. Seeing the pages of the dark and gritty haunts of Basin City and Old Town, with the host of morally ambiguous or downright evil characters lifted straight from the pages of Miller's sprawling hardboiled comics, will send shivers through the collective spines of the anointed. For those unfamiliar, the effect will not be quite so impacting. Indeed, for those decidedly not-in-the-know, the material may play rather illogically, its narrative ellipses leaving the novice periodically lost as to the whos, whats and whens of the interloping storylines. That said, "Sin City" is a wicked ride whether you know graphic novels or not. Starring Bruce Willis, Clive Owen, Benicio Del Toro, Mickey Rourke, Michael Clarke Duncan, Jessica Alba, Rosario Dawson and Brittany Murphy. Written by Frank Miller. Directed by Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino. Produced by Elizabeth Avellan. Drama/Thriller. A Dimension release. Rated R for sustained strong stylized violence, nudity and sexual content including dialogue. Running time: 124 min