Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014)
Directed by: Robert Rodriguez & Frank Miller
Running time: 102 minutes
And so, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is finally showing in Australia! Some of you may have noticed that the original August 21 release date changed to September 18 for Australia for no reported reason, and that sucked. I tried tweeting the film’s Australian distributor (three times) asking why and received no response. Maybe you guys could give it a try, start a #whyyounoanswerTom tag or something. Let me know how that goes!
Anyway, the film is finally out and my nine years of waiting has come to an end! Yes, it has been that long since the original Sin City and yes, you really are that old.
Now Showing this week is Sin City: A Dame to Kill For directed by the first film’s directors Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller (who also wrote the Sin City graphic novels). Keeping with the episodic nature of the books, A Dame to Kill For tells four vignettes in the gritty town of Sin City, connected by a few overlapping characters and locations.
The primary story focuses on Dwight McCarthy (Josh Brolin) and the mess he gets himself into when an old-flame, the titular “dame to kill for” Ava Lord (Eva Green), returns to betray him. The other three stories frame this narrative, including a short jaunt from Sin City’s resident amnesiac Marv (Mickey Rourke), a poker game turned deadly with Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and stripper Nancy’s (Jessica Alba) quest to avenge the death of her lover.
As with the first film, A Dame to Kill For’s main draw-card is its unique visual style. The black-and-white-with-splashes-of-colour look is as gorgeous now as it was in 2005, with advancements in CGI technology allow for some impressive shot transitions. The film is never boring to look at, using the drops of colour to spice up a dark shot or taking the colour out of something to make it incredibly stark. My favourite example of the latter is the presentation of blood; changing it to be bright white rather than a deep red.
The visual style of this film, and the original’s, is incredibly appropriate for the kind of film it is. Though there are no superheros in the graphic novels, the series still follows superhero-comic logic. Main characters can hit people across rooms, survive high falls and take obscene amounts of bullet wounds and stand back up. Combining these attributes to such a surreal visual style really blends it all together and makes A Dame to Kill For’s world much easier to absorb. There is no need to suspend your disbelief as no belief is needed nor expected of you while watching this film.
Now, as a fan of the books I was hugely impressed with the two stories adapted from the novels. The “A Dame to Kill For” story has always been my favourite, and seeing it brought to life was well worth the almost decade-long wait. Marv’s gory “Just Another Saturday Night” makes a great introduction for the film, but next to the other stories it is almost forgotten.
The two original stories were sadly a bit hit-and-miss. Johnny’s poker game was enthralling, introducing a new character into an already complicated feud with ease. But Nancy’s revenge quest, while admittedly entertaining, infuriatingly ruined the continuity between stories in the first film/books. The Sin City series’ continuity is tricky to navigate as it is, but Nancy’s story just makes absolutely no sense timeline-wise and no attempt was made to explain it away.
Acting-wise, Eva Green stole the show as Ava Lord. If I had to boil Ava’s character down to a single adjective it would be “irresistible”. She is a woman who exploits the weak, base natures of men in an attempt to climb out of their shadows, and to express that in the film it needed an actress who could facilitate an intense desire as well as the acting chops to bring out her cunning. The whole film is worth seeing just for her.
The rest of the principle cast performed well, especially the returning characters. A few exceptions from some minor stripper and police officer roles, but they were minor enough to not be a problem. Josh Brolin was a good replacement for Clive Owen from the first film, although I did miss Owen’s Dwight. Joseph Gordon-Levitt was a scene stealer in his tale, bringing his trademark charm to the cocky gambler Johnny. Nancy’s character took a dramatic change, going from stripper-with-a-heart-of-gold to vengeance-driven-drunk, and while I wasn’t the biggest fan of her continuity ruining tale, Jessica Alba gave a great performance.
But the bottom line is that Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is all about a certain style, and if it isn’t your style than there is nothing there for you to enjoy. Combining film noir-esque narration, corny dialogue, extreme violence, thuggish tough guys and scantily clad women, A Dame to Kill For is not for everyone. If I had to explain to someone what the “male gaze” is, I would show them this film. And if a male gaze film offends you, then there you go. But if that noir “dames and bullets” kind of storytelling appeals to you, this film is a fantastic modern example.
See you next time!