A perfect recreation of the graphic novels. We basically get a compilation of some of the "yarns" from Frank Miller's venerable series about the various low lifes and their lives in one of the worst cities in America. In order, the film serves up : The Customer is Always Right part 1 (a short story), then the full length yarns: That Yellow Bastard part 1, The Hard Goodbye, The Big Fat Kill, That Yellow Bastard part 2, and The Customer is Always Right part 2 (created just for the film to act as a frame story).
It's a nice selection of works, and the vague symmetry of how they're pieced together is nice too, really showing off the intertwining nature of the stories and how, even in the graphic novel universe, they're in non-linear fashion. The Hard Goodbye is chronologically the last, but was published first, and presented third here.
Robert Rodriguez was a great choice for this, and joining him in the diretor's chair is Frank Miller himself, the best (and obvious) choice for someone to adapt this stuff. They even got Tarantino to show up as a special guset director for a single scene, which apparently was done as a favor to Rodriguez who directed a scene for Pulp Fiction. If you want to know what the scenes are, just ask because I happen to know stuff like that.
A few changes are made to the works, namely the addition of the epilogue (I can't explain it without spoliers), and some minor tweaks here and there (like keeping Jessica Alba's character clothed since she's got a no nudity clause in her contract. Changes like that aren't really much of a problem, as the main point still gets across. And, as a nicce treat, actual panels from the graphic novels were used as story boards, so the film absolutely nails the look and feel of the graphic novels.
I'm sometimes leery on the use of so much CGI, but can make exceptions when it really is used to do something stylish, innovative, and is employed creatively. That's the case here. With the exception of like three sets, everything else is done with green screen, really giving the film a unique style and appearance. Also, true to the books, the film is primarily in high contrast black and white, with occasional splashes of high definition color for emphasis, such as on eyes, shoes, or, in the case of one character, his whole body.
The casting for this was, no lie, absolutely perfect. Seriously. They managed to find the perfect dead ringers for this, and thankfully, besides looking like their characters, all the actors deliver some tremendous performances, especially Rourke, who started making a comeback with this. The actors all "get" the material, and they play it without a sense of camp or cheekiness. Well, Madsen seems a little too comic bookish, but he's still good.
It's also great that they filmed this as almost shot for shot the way they did, because had this all been in color, it'd be the most gruesome film ever. Not that that's necessarily a bad thing, but seriously, this has some deliciously over the top gore and mayhem, and it is gloriously awesome. It's not gonna be for all tastes, but it IS a neo noir crime thriller after all.
As much as I love this, I'm a little hesitant to just straight up slap it with the Full 5. In many ways it does deserve it, since this is a high water mark for graphic novel adaptations, but I think in a lot of ways it might be a tad too faithful, too reverent, and it might have been better had it been dialed down a notch. I do have a lot of respect for it though, and definitely feel like it is required viewing for Miller fans, Rodriguez fans, and people who dig stylish neo noir hard boiled crime thriller material.