Stark, Bloody, and two smoking Marvs
It’s a little bizarre that Sin City: A Dame to Kill For took this long to get made. Creative differences, production and casting issues, and the usual onslaught of headlines and rumors supposedly got in the way of this film getting off the ground. But nearly ten years later, we have A Dame to Kill For, and there are many disappointing elements that the filmmakers, with ten years to play with, should have gotten right. The Sin City film franchise nevertheless continues to showcase some of the most impressive visuals in movies — but has the novelty worn off? The black and white psychedelic neo-noir tone is fun, yet a lacking depth of emotion and a shortage of character variety (compared to 2005’s Sin City) spoils the return to Frank Miller’s dark seedy world.
The most blatant misfire was casting Josh Brolin in the role of Dwight, the cold-hearted women-protecting gun and/or camera for hire brought to life by the cool and calm and collected and badass Clive Owen back in 2005. In Sin City, Clive Owen was a suave yet harsh muscle man, not a brute. The ‘brute’ was reserved for Hartigan (Bruce Willis) and Marv (Mickey Rourke). In A Dame to Kill For, Brolin is a brute. He speaks with a gravelly voice just like Marv’s and has the mug of an exhausted man after years of beatings. Marv and Dwight are just too similar, and while watching I couldn’t help but think how Owen’s presence would’ve livened up Dwight’s storyline. Brolin is a talented actor, but he was miscast here. The remaining cast is solid, with new addition Joseph Gordon-Levitt as smooth-talking gambler on a mission Johnnie as a highlight. But a cast is sometimes only as good as their characters, and in A Dame to Kill For, overarching misogyny and laughable exposition cloud the decisions of every character on screen.
The emotions don’t run as high in Dame to Kill For as they did in Sin City. Perhaps because the sequel runs ~30 minutes shorter, it jumps from action bit to action bit and the dialogue feels a bit rushed. And keep in mind, the dialogue consists of inner monologue voiceover lines like “Death is just like life in Sin City. It always wins” and “Never lose control. Never let the monster out” so while these were somewhat novel in 2005, they are a bit tiresome now.
The visual component is Sin City’s biggest selling point, and for the most part it doesn’t disappoint. The green screen work is top notch. The backdrops, scene framing, and camera movements (CGI or not) are spectacular…and even warrant the extra bucks for 3D. But again, the novelty (9 years later) has worn off a bit, and indeed the usage of these visual cues isn’t as clever as it once was. Select colors are highlighted throughout, red blood or green eyes, and the result is striking but it doesn’t add to the story like the horrific yellow of Yellow Bastard (Nick Stahl) did in Sin City. Miller and Robert Rodriguez, both co-directors of Dame, seemed to have become complacent with their own material.
Perhaps I’m just completely desensitized, but I didn’t even feel like A Dame to Kill For had the visceral violence that Sin City had. Except for 1-2 moments, the violence is impersonal, quite contrasting to the shockingly gruesome gore depicted in the first film. So in the end, what exactly does A Dame to Kill For have to offer audiences? The answer is a hollow remnant of the coolness from a smash hit released a decade ago. With that in mind, I recommend you watch the smash hit, and let this one rest in the stylized shadows.
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For opens in Bay Area theaters today.