Robert Rodriguez and codirector Frank Miller (the writer/artist of the Sin City graphic novels) create a faithful, shot-for-shot rendition of each stunning panel. Hard, resolute voice-overs accompany stark, inky images. There are brief flashes and flutters of color -- red for brake-lights, a heart-shaped bed, a lightning-streaked sky, a sleek getaway car, and blood. There's also yellow for the golden curls of a dead prostitute and the jaundiced skin of a cowardly villain, whose toxic perversions have turned him the color of bile. This is a masterpiece of technique, bravura filmmaking with sure and complete mastery of tone, setting, and mood. A lesser cast would be lost, even invisible, but Rourke, Willis, and especially Owen are every bit as arresting as the images around them. Most of the female characters are more props than characters, but Rosario Dawson and Jessica Alba make strong impressions.
The film is overwhelming at times, intentionally keeping viewers off-kilter by combining grand heroics, stunning beauty, hideous grotesquerie, outrageous butchery, toughness and innocence, tragedy and comedy. This is a movie where a man's hand is sliced off, and then he slips on it like a banana peel. It exists precisely on the edge between exploitation and artistic statement, ultimately saving itself from toppling over with the sincerity of its tone, the beauty of its images, and the honor of its heroes.