Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (United States, 2014)

August 22, 2014
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For Poster

For those who appreciated Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller's 2005 campy, kinetic film noir homage, Sin City, the 2014 follow-up, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is unlikely to disappoint. It's more of the same and, although a good deal of the freshness associated with the original has evaporated and the stories aren't quite as well packaged, the second installment remains enjoyable, fast-paced, and visually inventive. Many familiar faces are back, a few returning characters are being played by new actors, and there are a few new additions. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For isn't likely to win many new converts but it won't drive away those with a penchant for this kind of supremely violent, hyper-stylized content.

A Dame to Kill For features four story segments, three of which function as prequels to the first film and one of which occurs after the events of Sin City. The movie gets off to a riveting start by re-introducing barrel-chested Marv (Mickey Rourke) who has gotten himself into some trouble as a result of an incident with a group of punks. Marv makes it his duty to serve them justice as only he and the citizens of Old Town can deliver it. Next up is the tale of gambler Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who never loses at a game of chance. This isn't always necessarily a good thing as becomes apparent when he wins big at a poker game presided over by Senator Roarke (Powers Boothe), who doesn't like to lose. Later, we meet Dwight (Josh Brolin), who's wearing his pre-Clive Owen face. Dwight has a soft spot for his old flame, Ava (Eva Green). She knows his weaknesses and manipulates him relentlessly, perhaps going a little too far. Finally, the movie jumps to the future and shows the lengths to which stripper Nancy (Jessica Alba) will go to get her revenge against Senator Roarke for the death of Hartigan (Bruce Willis, once again playing a dead person).

It should come as no surprise that A Dame to Kill For clones its predecessor's style. Most of the movie is in black-and-white but there are splashes of color throughout. Blood, of which there is a copious amount, is represented either in red or florescent white. Rodriguez avoids an NC-17, which this surely would have earned had it been shot "straight," by making everything over-the-top and showing some of the most violent sequences in silhouette. The nudity, which is abundant (most of it courtesy of the lovely Eva Green), is almost artistic in the way it is treated. There are some beautifully framed images. One disappointment is that the 3-D doesn't add much to the experience. Although there are no issues with blurry or underlit scenes (possibly because of the b&w composition), the 3-D is generic. Rodriguez does nothing interesting with it. In fact, if not for the glasses, it would be easy to forget the extra dimension.

As was the case with Sin City, the standout character is Marv, who is played with gusto by an almost unrecognizable Mickey Rourke. There are two excellent additions to the cast. The first is Josh Brolin, who plays Dwight before undergoing the "face change" referenced in Sin City. Brolin is a little more emotive then Clive Owen and, perhaps because of his circumstances, more sympathetic. Then there's Eva Green, who is easily A Dame to Kill For's most obvious asset. Appearing in her second Frank Miller adaptation of the year (after offering the most memorable scenes in the 300 sequel), Green cements her scene-stealing credentials with a perfect femme fatale impersonation. Whether clothed or naked, she rivets the camera's attention. Green shares the villain's duties with Powers Boothe, who knows a thing or two about how to get viewers to hate his character.

In terms of the success of the individual segments, A Dame to Kill For is 2-for-4. The short opening story with Marv is great fun. The long tale of Dwight and Ava (with more Marv) is by far the movie's most compelling narrative piece. The scenes with Johnny start out promising but have a less-than-satisfying end. Finally, the Nancy material is uneven at best, although it ties up some loose ends and is short enough not to become too painful when it falters.

When Sin City was released, it was a remarkable achievement - a comic book adaptation that didn't look or feel like every other comic book adaptation. It was bold, daring, and drunk on visual excess. Those qualities remain in A Dame to Kill For, although the passage of time and a change in how movies are presented has tamed the uniqueness. This movie is mostly about visual razzle-dazzle and riffing on film noir conceits. Rodriguez hasn't deviated far from his mission statement for the original and that's a good thing for Sin City fans.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (United States, 2014)

Run Time: 1:42
U.S. Release Date: 2014-08-22
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Sexual Content, Nudity, Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1