Basin City, a town rife with tough guys and tougher gals, hides stories around every shadowy corner, just four of which include a betrayed P.I. out for blood, an exotic dancer’s mission of vengeance, a career gambler’s one big score and a psychopath’s idea of justice.
Nine years have passed since the noir classic, Sin City, hit the big screens, so accurately adapting the über-stylised graphic novels of Frank Miller, serving up a satisfying and crowd-pleasing dish of an imagined, hyper-realised version of old fashioned that, in actuality, happened to be entirely singular.
Nine years is a long time however; people change, perceptions change and tastes change, and being that the timeless tales of Sin City generally have the same tone, is there any room for it in today’s saturated and fickle marketplace?
The answer, of course is one of personal taste, but from a technical and narrative standpoint at least, the latest instalment proves that there is still life in this most coveted of comic properties, but with it is the chance to mess it up in a big way. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is two parts excellent to one part horrendous.
As with the first film, A Dame to Kill For starts with a very short story, this one featuring Mickey Rourke’s Marv, piecing together a night’s violent activities from shards of memory after bloodlust and a car accident have left him with temporary amnesia. A second story sees Joseph Gordon Levitt’s card sharp, Johnny, go up against a corrupt Senator at the tables, putting everything on the line. The next story has Josh Brolin taking the role of P.I, Dwight, previously played by Clive Owen, in a Double Indemnity-like tale with a doubly murderous twist.
All these stories come from pre-existing Sin City material, Just Another Saturday Night, The Long Bad Night and A Dame to Kill For, respectively (albeit an unpublished one in the case of The Long Bad Night), and so have just the same feel of story and execution as all the stories from the first film, and if you’re a fan of that, assuming your preferences haven’t significantly changed, there is no reason in the world that your shouldn’t enjoy these new stories to an equal degree.
Levitt’s story stands out, chiefly down to his fantastic performance, as the best of the bunch, which was especially surprising to this reviewer, as the A Damn to Kill For graphic novel is my favourite of the series, and as such I was looking forward to that segment the most.
Sure there’s the odd quibble, the pacing of A Dame to Kill For is a little breakneck, and Eva Green (when she doesn’t have it all on display) feels somewhat miscast as the woman no one can resist, but on the whole the two films could run together as one… and then the last story plays out, and in doing so tries its damnedest to bring down the whole house of cards.
This last story is an original tale written by Frank Miller chronicling Jessica Alba’s exotic dancer, Nancy, on a mission to kill the man responsible for the downfall of her beloved John Hartigan (Bruce Willis) and there is so much wrong with it that to go into it all would almost seem like unnecessary bullying… but needs must.
Part of the problem, and this will come as no surprise to people who have followed Miller’s comic work for the last decade or so, is that he’s become a bit of a hack, regurgitating work that feels partially racist and partially perverted but wholly like a pale imitation of his former work, a trend that has certainly held for his film projects, first with the terrible and mercifully forgotten The Spirit, and now with this last story.
It isn’t clear if Miller refused to acknowledge his previous Sin City stories in a desperate bid to shoehorn Alba, Rourke and Willis into another story, or if he just totally forgot the specifics of the chronological timeline previously held in such high regards by fans, but characters who should be dead at this point take part in the story, characters who are actually dead reappear as ghosts (?) and by the time you’ve decided to stop trying to figure it all out, you’ve totally been pulled out of the film. Even the action in this segment more resembles The Spirit than Sin City.
It’s telling that sole writing credit has been given to Miller, and as sad as it sounds, considering, one can’t help but think that A Dame to Kill For, as a whole, would have been much better served without his input. Co-director, Robert Rodriguez, has enough respect for the material so that he would have no doubt retained the comic’s feel and aesthetic, but it also seems he has too much respect for Miller to override the creator’s ill conceived vision for his own characters… Understandable but unfortunate.
All that being said, and unfortunate as THAT story being the last of the film is, there is still much to be enjoyed about Sin City: A Dame to Kill For for fans of hot girls, tough guys and big weapons. Hopefully we’ll be able to watch the stories separately on its home release.