Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, 2014.
Directed by Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller.
Starring Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Josh Brolin, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Rosario Dawson, Eva Green, Powers Boothe, Ray Liotta, Dennis Haysbert, Christopher Meloni, Jeremy Piven, Jaime King, Juno Temple, Christopher Lloyd, Lady Gaga, Stacy Keach and Jamie Chung.
Some of Sin City’s most hard-boiled citizens cross paths with a few of its more reviled inhabitants.
Innovation should be rewarded. Experimentation should be commended. For those two reasons I’m awarding the second Sin City film two stars. There are reasons to celebrate the cinematic adaptation of Frank Miller’s neo-noir series of graphic novels. They are garish mash ups of old stories and new technology. Visually interesting pieces of crime fiction that expose almost every cliche the genre ever created.
I was pretty tough on the first Sin City. I admired what it aspired to be but hated what it actually was. The entire experience was like watching someone’s attempt at an art film. The kind of movie made by a friend that they’re so eager for you to see, but when you finally watch it you struggle to find anything positive to say. So you use words like ‘unique’ and ‘different’ to describe a finished product you ultimately find unfufilling.
I actually enjoyed the sequel much more the original. It manages to tell a handful of collected series that feel more grounded than the original. All the problems I had about style winning out over substance still apply. A Dame to Kill For is the living, breathing embodiment of style over substance, but it ends up being an improvement due to a cast that feels far better suited to the material Writer/Director Frank Miller is peddling. Actors like Joseph Gordon Levitt and Josh Brolin feel tailor made for seedy underworld stories of Sin City. Brolin feels like he was created for these kind stories. His chiseled face and gravelly voice is such a natural fit. Much like Chris Pratt in Guardians of the Galaxy, he feels perfectly cast in the role of Dwight, a private dick with an epic mean streak.
Dwight is doing various investigative work when his path crosses with Ava (Eva Green), a purring vixen hell bent on punishing her former flame. It’s a volcanic love/hate relationship that generates a lot of heat. She’s trapped in a brutal marriage and wants Dwight to help her escape. She’s a perfect femme fatale who oozes sex with every breath. The kind of woman you could see grown men shedding all their sanity over. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Johnny, a gambler who takes a large haul away from the wrong guy; a Senator (Powers Boothe) who enjoys showing how much power he possesses. He tracks down Johnny and ruins his ‘lucky’ hand with a pair of pliers.
Jessica Alba and Mickey Rourke return from the first film to reprise their roles. Rourke’s Marv continues his role as a fixture in most of the stories providing color commentary and brute force when needed. Alba’s Nancy is a stripper with a heart of gold who somehow never has to take off her clothes. She has lost every ounce of innocence she had in the original and has become a bitter, world weary drunk. Her soul yearns for revenge against those who killed her only link to this world, Hartigan (Bruce Willis). Much like The Sixth Sense, Willis spends this movie as a ghost. An ethereal reminder of everything Nancy has lost.
The stories are fun and kind of kitschy, like Corn Noir. It’s hard to take everything so seriously when it’s all played so deadpan. There were plenty of times throughout the film where I felt like I was watching Leslie Nielsen in a Naked Gun movie. Every character talks in the same emotionless warble. Guns are extremely effective against anyone without their name above the title, but seem utterly useless on everyone else. Not since Lethal Weapon 2 have I seen a movie where guns seem so pointless ineffective. It’s one of the problems with applying comic book logic to a movie you’re expected to take semi-seriously. Your gritty, back alley crime world seems kind of toothless when the heroes of the piece seem virtually indestructible.
I liked the second Sin City more than the first, but the whole enterprise still seems to be built on a faulty, cliche ridden foundation which works far better as a comic book homage to pulp. The Sin City films are kind of strange experiences since the source material is so inspired by the noir genre. Frank Miller did such a great job translating his love of these crime stories into the printed page. I realize the goal here is to make the panels come to life on screen, but it feels like a photocopy of those old great black and white noir films from the golden age of cinema. He’s so invested in the homage that the style seems infinitely more interesting than the characters or the world they inhabit.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Anghus Houvouras is a North Carolina based writer and filmmaker. His latest work, the novel My Career Suicide Note, is available from Amazon. Follow him on Twitter.