Dir: Robert Rodriguez
Star: Bruce Willis
, Mickey Rourke
, Clive Owen
, Jessica Alba
Got to admire Rodriguez, who seems to be able to helm anything from vampiric horror through action to kids' flicks - and now, does what's certainly the most faithful comic-book adaptation ever. So faithful, indeed that creator Frank Miller got a co-director's credit, a decision that cost Rodriguez his Director's Guild of America membership and a shot at helming the $100m A Princess of Mars. The film is an overlapping mix of three stories, though the opening scene is almost a fourth in itself, and sets the tone beautifully: film noir filtered through 90's cynicism and with the brutality more explicit than anything dreamed of by Sam Spade.
Willis, Rourke and Owen anchor the trilogy, as tragic heroes for whom violence is not just a solution - it's pretty much the first, last and only option. Not that the women are exactly shrinking violets, in particular the gang of hookers led by Rosario Dawson, who make Valkyries look like a bunch of Quakers. It's clear that Miller has ramped up the cliches of the genre to the max, and Rodriguez has followed him to the point of slavishness, with narration replacing the text of the frames. This does get somewhat old after a while; it's usually a copout, but seems less the case here, and almost a necessity given the amount that happens.
Of course, it's the look that stands out, to a purpose that Sky Captain never had, as red, white and even yellow blood arcs across the screen. It's a significant cinematic step forward in a number of ways - not least to demonstrate that indies can now go toe-to-toe with the studios in FX. It also stands a chance of revitalising Rourke's career, and it's been a long time since anyone used "Rourke" and "career" in the same sentence, never mind "revitalising". But his pug-ugly thug Marv is perhaps the most memorable thing here, as he engages in the most brutal of actions, for the purest of reasons: love. A slot in 2005's top ten is all but certain.