Sin City was a gratuitously offensive exercise in simplemindedness. Renaissance is much better but holds its own frustrations. This neo noir technothriller is set in 2050s Paris, chiefly as an excuse to showcase flashy bits of invented technology since it is executed very much in the traditional way. The backbone of the plot is the usual: Ilona Tasuiev (voiced by Romola Garai) has gone missing and important people want her found. Ideally a world weary gumshoe would be tasked with this mission but we get the second best archetype; Captain Karas (Daniel Craig), a maverick cop. It is possibly the world’s smallest spoiler to reveal that he is suspended part way through the film for getting results his way. The plot unfolds much as you would imagine, with evil corporations, mysterious pasts, femme fatales, chases, inversions and the like, but all falls apart in the final reel when yawning rents appear in the fabric of the story. This makes the attempt at an ambiguous conclusion seem merely unfinished.
So the story is little to get excited about but the visual impact of the film is another matter. As well as Miller the film is strongly influenced by Bladerunner (1982, 1992) but establishes its own identity in its implausible but impressive evocation of a future Paris. This makes great use of the grandiose architectural gesture, so beloved of comics. Couple this with the fact there is only a virtual camera making the cinematography and direction much more adventurous than you might expect and you have a riveting spectacle. There is some tension between the different techniques used – the CGI smoke of a character’s cigarette out of place against the blank planes of their face, or the fluid movement of someone walking against a static background – but it is certainly arresting.
This is a truly monochromatic film. There is no grey, only the nuclear glow of white and its absence. (The exception is a single splash of colour, which unfortunately seems to be de rigueur in modern black and white films.) It is a style that demands concentration, as images coalesce out of the shadows. Inevitably, since the film relies so heavily on such visual cues, this French film has been dubbed. It is probably the right decision but most of the voice actors give hammy performances and Craig, in the central role, sounds like he literally phoned his in. Let us hope this wasn’t his preparation for playing James Bond.