Frank Miller's Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

Directed by: Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller

Starring: Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Josh Brolin, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Rosario Dawson, Bruce Willis, Eva Green, Powers Boothe, Dennis Haysbert, Jeremy Piven, Ray Liotta, Stacy  Keach, and Jamie Chung

After seeing the misogynistic train wreck that was Machete Kills, I was not clamoring for another star-studded sequel from Robert Rodriguez.  While the original Sin City was creative and slick, I worried that Sin City: A Dame to Kill For would not live up to the original film.  I was right.  A Dame to Kill For is not as good as the original, but it does have some entertaining moments and characters.

Similar to the original film, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For includes several somewhat interrelated stories that serve as both a prequel and sequel to the original film.  Marv (Mickey Rourke) drinks nightly at the local dive bar while he guards Nancy (Jessica Alba).  Marv is still a violent vigilante, dolling out justice where he sees fit.  Nancy, the stripper who used to have a heart of gold, has become a bitter, vengeful alcoholic after Hartigan’s (Bruce Willis) suicide.  She drinks, broods and contemplates killing the evil and powerful Senator Roark (Powers Boothe), who Nancy views as being responsible for Hartigan’s death.

Meanwhile, Senator Roark gambles nightly at Kadie’s, the bar Nancy strips at.  He plays high stakes poker games with locals, and does not like to lose.  Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is new in town.  He comes to Sin City with luck on his side and money in his pocket.  He never loses at gambling.  He goes to Kadie’s, hell bent on beating Senator Roark at his own game.  Johnny challenges Roark and beats him badly in front of others.  Johnny’s night goes downhill from there.

Finally, Dwight (Josh Brolin) also frequents Kadie’s.  He is a former Old Town resident who has tried to put his past behind him.  Now he simply acts as a hired photographer, capturing things that Sin City residents do not want others to see.  Ava (Eva Green), a former lover, reaches out to Dwight.  Ava tells Dwight that she is trapped in a horrible marriage, being victimized by her rich husband and his hired menace Manute (Dennis Haysbert).  Ava wants Dwight to help her escape her sadistic husband. Dwight has to decide whether to get entangled with the seductive Ava and her marital woes.

Based on Frank Miller’s graphic novel series, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For follows the same formula as the original film.  There are damsels in distress, dastardly villains, reluctant but deadly heroes, brutally violent action sequences, and plenty of machismo.  Visually, the film is stunning.  The directors’ use of black and white imagery with calculated splashes of color makes viewers feel as if they are watching a graphic novel come to life.  Moreover, the cinematography is truly a work of art.  Whether it is Eva Green jumping into a swimming pool or Jamie Chung flying through the air fighting, there is a beauty to the direction.  The extra 3D price is not warranted, but the visual effects are interesting and at times quite lovely.

In terms of the narrative, Josh Brolin and Eva Green’s “A Dame to Kill For” storyline is the best developed plot in the film.  It blends new and old characters seamlessly.  Brolin shines as the gruff, former bad guy trying to resist the seduction of his past life.  Like Bruce Willis and Mickey Rourke, Brolin has an old school macho vibe that works in the noir genre.  Eva Green plays the role of the calculating seductress well, and even brings some humor to her role.  The inclusion of a strutting, badass Rosario Dawson seals the deal in this tale.

Although the Brolin narrative delivers, the other stories do not have the same punch.  The brief initial story with Mickey Rourke feels incomplete.  The addition of Joseph Gordon-Levitt was a great move and the Johnny/Roark plot is compelling.  However, the writers devote so much time to Brolin and Green that the other storylines do not receive the same development.  On the other hand, the Jessica Alba narrative fell flat for me.  Nancy’s story ended with Bruce Willis’ death in the first film, and Alba is not compelling enough to drive the story without Willis.  (Bruce Willis as a ghost does not cut it).  Closing the film abruptly on Alba’s story undermines some of the strength of the film.

Moreover, with A Dame to Kill For’s release so soon after Machete Kills, I cannot help but comment on Rodriquez’s depiction of women in films.  While I understand that this type of film is highly stylized and hearkens back to a different time, the women in Rodriguez’s films are generally hypersexual.  They are scantily clad strippers, whores, bimbos, or airheads.  Even Eva Green’s character uses her sexuality and feminine wiles to ensnare men.  In Rodriguez’s film world, men live by honor, wit and brute strength.  Women in his movies (aside from the Spy Kids series), are defined by their sexuality.  Even if Rodriguez’s female characters are strong fighters, they are doing so in a bikini or skimpy clothing.  To put it mildly, Rodriguez has some gender issues.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For earns a 0.06% rating.  Those who enjoyed the original Sin City will likely enjoy most of this film as well.  However, it does not bring anything fresh or new to the noir genre.