If you thought Kill Bill's flying body parts were as glorified as movie violence could get, think again.

Sin City is violence and violence is Sin City. Nothing is made tolerable through cartoonish exaggeration, like Tarantino's ode to gore. Nor does this film ride on something as simple as the Bride's rampage of revenge. Not only is it deeply, darkly vicious, but Sin City is also viciously emotive, telling three tales of three men with a passion as graphic as its content. It is not for the weak of stomach, but woe?woe on the true film lover who dares turn away. From its bold look to its battered heroes, its perfectly embodied characters to its shameless exploitation of all the worst in human nature, Sin City is a gem. A dark, razor-edged jewel that cuts film as we know it wide open, spilling its guts all over the place.

This film stabs deepest with its look, but only after the blade is sharpened with its storylines. It welds together three stories into the dark streets and back alleys of Sin City, leaving the place itself with the deepest stench of its bloody narratives. Here, every guy is built and merciless and every woman is a prostitute or exotic dancer. All heroes are fugitives of a corrupt law. And all the good guys put their lives on the line for the sake of a woman.

In his roughest, most heroic performance to date, Bruce Willis plays Hartigan, a good cop on the tail of a vile, son-of-a-Senator pedophile (Nick Stahl). His girl is Nancy, played by a gorgeous Jessica Alba. Film come-and-goer Mickey Rourke transforms so brutally into his character, the bulky wild man Merv, that it is easy to forget, watching him dismember and torture the bad guys, mashing his fists in some unfortunate character's flesh and such, that you are watching an actor. He fights serial wackos, like Elijah Woods's Kevin, who doesn't talk, but does eat people, all for the sake of one unforgettable prostitute.

Then there's Closer's Clive Owen as Dwight, a fugitive who almost drowns in tar for Shelly (Brittany Murphy) and Gail (Rosario Dawson). It's one of his bad guys, Jackie Boy, played by Benicio Del Toro, that probably gets the worst end of the whole violence stick. It's one thing to have your hand shot off and to be slashed by a ninja star. But then to sit on that ninja star and be...well, I won't bore you with the details. But let's just say Del Toro spent plenty of time in makeup.

Which brings us to the look?the glorious, glorious visual seizure that is Sin City. There's no way to describe it but to say that film has never put the eerie, jagged comic book look on the big screen quite like this. Director Robert Rodriguez, known for his self-made, duct-tape and chewing-gum creativity, wasn't kidding around when he said he wanted to shoot every frame to look just like the Frank Miller graphic novels on which the film is based. But you could really only do that well if you, like, got Miller himself to co-direct.

So he did. And it was good. Panel after panel, shadow after haunting shadow makes the entire world unnatural, making the already perverse themes and content even more harrowing, more foreign. Then there's the color teases?selective objects in red, blue, yellow, each with its discernible symbolic significance, if you're paying attention.

This is the sort of masterpiece where you can find it?the bloody, pounding heartbeat of real, heaving, living film. Sin City is the film you've been wading through four months of 2005 movie blah-blah to see, one of those rare works that squeezes every ounce of stuff from the medium and crushes everything that stands in its way. Miss it and you may regret it. Miss it and it may come after you.