I like to think of Sin City, based on the comic book of the same name by Frank Miller, as a sort of dark reflection of our own world. On the one hand, it is a classic film noir story filled with all the tropes and character archetypes you would expect: the last good cop is betrayed by a corrupt partner, the tough guy fights for revenge, and every woman looks like she’s just walked out of a 1950s glamour magazine. Yes, the movie is incredibly stylized; the film is in black and white giving it the feel of a classic noir flick, except for things meant to be important to the viewer, such as the antagonist of one story, the damsel-in-distress in another, and the occasional bright red blood splatter. The film’s dark and foreboding soundtrack and often incredibly over-the-top action and gore contribute to the noir feel; before long you feel right at home in this damned city of dead end streets and dead end lives.
The “heroes” are (with the possible exception of John Hartigan) not by any means traditionally good people. One is a serial killer, another’s a thug with schizophrenia; even the last good cop is extremely violent by the standards of most heroes. They are the “heroes” mostly because the antagonists are so despicably vial; one’s a rapist, another’s a mob boss, one’s even a cannibal. But even then, no one is free from blame in Sin City, and don’t expect happy endings; the best you can do is bittersweet.
Sin City manages to be at the same time both a fantastic example of the noir genre of fiction and profoundly realistic. Yes, it’s very heavily stylized, it plays with classic noir tropes, and most of the characters couldn’t even come close to functioning in the real world. Almost everything about the movie is taken to ridiculous and absurd levels. But it’s also a reminder. It’s a reminder that our world is not black and white, that the good guys aren’t always nice, and that they don’t always win. It’s a reminder that we don’t always get happy endings, because our world is not painted with such simple colors.