Sin City: A Dame To Kill For

sincityRelease Date: August 22, 2014
Cast: Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Josh Brolin, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Rosario Dawson, Bruce Willis, Eva Green, Powers Boothe
Director: Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller
Studio: Troublemaker Studios
Distributor: Dimension Films
Genre(s): Neo-Noir, Crime, Thriller
Based On Frank Miller’s Sin City graphic novels

Rating: ★★★★☆
Review Spoilers: Low
IMDB | Rotten Tomatoes | Wikipedia

I absolutely love Frank Miller’s Sin City. It’s been my favorite thing for years. I love that gritty, neo-noir, pseudo-wild-wild-west feel that the story exudes along side the beautiful graphic art that perfectly characterizes the familiarity of Sin City. I’ll admit that I started reading Sin City after I saw the movie in 2005, what can I say I was 13, my comprehension of graphic novels went as far as the name. But once I got my hands on the likes of Sin City I was addicted.

I say this so that you’ll understand that when I heard Sin City: A Dame To Kill For was finally getting made, I was crying to the heavens. I know that Miller has gotten criticisms that his Sin City stories are misogynistic and homophobic, and I know the first Sin City wasn’t exactly a commercial success but god damn it, I was basically begging to watch this movie.

I have to say, stylistically, this movie hit all the marks for me. It was like watching the graphic novel come to life. From the stunning shots of Eva Green’s Ava Lord in the pool to Jessica Alba’s Nancy dancing on the seedy stage at Kadie’s, it’s like nothing has changed from the page to the screen and that’s a good thing. Rodriguez does a great job of showing you the shots that are so iconic in Miller’s world, of Sin City at its best and at its worst.

Unlike the previous movie, A Dame To Kill For is set almost primarily in Kadie’s saloon. Each story revolves around the bar, and instead of spreading the story far out across Sin City, it always returns to Kadie’s with each return showing off the sordid undercurrent of Sin City policed by Micky Rourke’s Marv and entertained by Nancy. This does a lot for a movie that is trying to live up to its predecessor of nine years. Where a sequel/prequel made within five years of it’s predecessor can afford to get straight to the point, a movie like A Dame To Kill For needs to fill in some of the blanks for audiences.

This is where the problem of this sequel/prequel comes in. The very foundation of A Dame To Kill For is set around the story of the first Sin City. Although there are parts set before and parts set after Sin City, it feeds off of the previous tale. While Sin City had six yarns to its story, A Dame To Kill For has cut the number down to four with two original yarns by Frank Miller written exclusively for the movie. Three of these yarns revolve around Senator Roark and one of them revolves around Dwight McCarthy, the main character from the previous movie.

The problem with a story so heavily connected with the first movie is the fact that it was made nine years before. Nine years is a long time for a movie that not a lot of people watched on the grand scale. It ends up repeating the previous story in order to complete their current story. It also ends up making characters explain themselves, telling not showing. Marv’s opening scene “Just Another Saturday Night”, with his pills and his mayhem making reminds us of who he is. It shouldn’t, or rather it doesn’t need to. It’s meant to place the story in a timeline before Hartigan’s death but it just ends up feeling repetitive. We know who Marv is by the end of the movie, we know what kind of person he is.

Speaking of Bruce Willis’ Detective Hartigan, he plays a prominent role in “Nancy’s Last Dance”, which feels like it’s on the edge of being a wonderful story, but at the same time feels weighed down by repetitive story telling. Hartigan’s ghost appearance affects us more than his voice does. He didn’t need to talk to us for us to know how much his presence affected Nancy, she does that for the both of them.

She's not just "skinny little Nancy Callahan" anymore. [sincity-2.com]
She’s not just “skinny little Nancy Callahan” anymore. [sincity-2.com]
Despite the short comings of “Nancy’s Last Dance”, the development of Nancy’s character as well as Senator Roark’s is perfect. Anything that transforms Nancy’s character from the angelic one-dimensional dancer that she is into a full-fledged character is good for me. “Nancy’s Last Dance” also extends the character of Senator Roark. While Sin City merely mentioned him, the Senator plays center stage in A Dame To Kill For. He is the big bad, there’s no doubt about it. Everyone is out for his head, and he is glad to blow cigar smoke in their face and tell them exactly what his power means.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s original character Johnny has a great revenge story in “The Long Bad Night”. He plays the lucky-handed gambler Johnny who is out to rob Roark blind at the poker tables, and does so without so much as a blink of an eye. His story is gruesome and slick and it makes me wish that Miller would write a lot more Sin City stories again.

A perfect duplicate of the scene in the graphic novel. [novafm.com.au]
A perfect duplicate of the scene in the graphic novel. [novafm.com.au]
Then there’s “A Dame To Kill For”, the titular story. I’ve known since the announcement of a sequel/prequel that we would be getting “A Dame To Kill For” as one of our storylines. It’s probably the most well known Sin City story.

It could have easily been a side story on its own, given how closed off the story actually is from the other three. It involves Marv and Kadie’s saloon like the other stories, but other than that it’s a stand alone. It carries enough weight to go on its own. Josh Brolin’s Dwight McCarthy brings a torment that we only got a taste of in Clive Owen’s Dwight.

It’s obvious by the end of the story that Dwight’s recast from Clive Owen to Josh Brolin could easily be a part of the tale, but what about the other cast? A pregnant Devon Aoki is replaced by Jamie Chung for the infamous katana-weilding, deadly little Miho but does a fine job of portraying the assassin in place of Aoki. The late Michael Clarke Duncan replaced by Dennis Haysbert is a great recast, but obviously there’s a sad part of me that wishes I could have seen the faceoff with Michael Clarke Duncan and Mickey Rourke.

New members of the ensemble cast all do great jobs though. Juno Temple, Julia Garner, Lady Gaga, Christopher Meloni, and Jeremy Piven fill up the supporting cast with memorable and iconically Sin City roles. The absolutely perfect casting of Eva Green as the femme fatale Ava Lord is magnificent. She is able to capture both the power and the fragility of a woman that could have easily been a one-dimensional character. Applause is deserved for Eva Green’s perfect performance and of course Mickey Rourke’s Marv.

Ava Lord's got them all wrapped around her pretty little finger. [novafm.com.au]
Ava Lord’s got them all wrapped around her pretty little finger. [novafm.com.au]
Final Thoughts: The nine year gap between movies weakens Sin City: A Dame To Kill For as a story, but the visual aesthetics has the same if not better impact on the screen and does a perfect job of translating the story from the pages of the graphic novel onto the silver screen. It’s not a movie the critics will like, but as a Sin City fan I left happy we got more looks into the Rodriguez/Miller world.

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