Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014)

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A young man arrives to show the old powers in charge that they can't hold on forever.  The monster calls to a photographer summoned by the love of his life.  The innocent dancer sheds her disguise to kill the man who scarred her.  These are just a handful of the yarns that you can find in Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, directed by Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller.

My monsterThe first Sin City was one of my seminal experiences in college.  The theater that I worked at let us all dress up as characters, and throughout the weekend packed audiences left each screening nearly sweating at the delirious display.  I loved the first film, but wondered if its blend of ultra sexist violence and extreme style was something I just responded to as a younger, less socially aware, man.  After A Dame to Kill For I dusted off my old copy and gave it a spin.  I still felt that surge when Clive Owen told Rosario Dawson what kind of car he needs, and that perfect darkness when Bruce Willis ends his story line with, "An old man dies.  A little girl lives.  Fair trade."

Problems?  Sure, but made up for with energy and creativity that's just not present in Sin City: A Dame to Kill For.  There is a lot to dislike, there are also moments of dark energy that conjure up the excitement of the first film, but this is a sequel that falls under the blanket of too little, too late.  Since Sin City came out we've had a wealth of comic book adaptations that either expanded on the universes of the source (Hell Boy: The Golden City) or found more cinematic ways of presenting the craziness (X-Men: Days of Future Past).  Director Robert Rodriguez has slowed down a bit since as well, with his manic energy going toward increasingly dull children's films or flat exercises in pulp.

The biggest problem with A Dame to Kill For is that it's almost a decade too late.  Many of the performers who made Sin City such a blast return, with Mickey Rourke every bit as dangerously charming as he was in the original, but everything seems tired.  Where the earlier film was filled with cartoon super-violence, this one settles for black and white brutality.  The makeup effects, soundtrack, and stories follow suit, resulting in a product that has a lot of stylish violence, but little of the gleeful nihilism that followed each chapter of the first film down whatever dank hole they chose.

Levitt's an odd fit for Sin City, as his perky energy seems more likely to emanate color than his companion.

Levitt's an odd fit for A Dame to Kill For, as his perky energy seems more likely to emanate color than his companion.

The sequel faced an uphill climb to begin with.  Sin City already mined Frank Miller's comics for the best stories with "The Hard Goodbye", "The Big Fat Kill", and "That Yellow Bastard".  As a result, only two of the stories featured in A Dame to Kill For are based on the source material, "Just Another Saturday Night", and "A Dame to Kill For", with the two remaining segments "The Long Bad Night", and "Nancy's Last Dance", written by Miller specifically for the screen.  Without Miller's art to storyboard, or just film directly to the screen, from the stories rely on Miller's current writing talents, which have been in decline in recent years.

The two original stories for the screen abandon the cartoon super-violence for simple, connected stories of vengeance.  "Nancy's Last Dance" feels like a thank you to Jessica Alba for being such a good sport in writhing through most of this film and the first, but is the duller of the two.  There is one nice reveal when the camera pans up to see Nancy's (Alba) scarred face ready for revenge, but goes on to show another series of beat downs as Marv (Rourke) works his way through one of several mobs of unfortunate goons.  The hyperkinetic style of Sin City is diminished, settled down for bodies thrown aside by the towering Marv.

A bit more successful, but ill-fitting, is Joseph Gordon-Levitt's "The Long Bad Night."  Levitt brings a lot of energy and spunk to the role of a grifter looking to settle a hash with Senator Roarke (Powers Boothe), but his character seems more at home with James Bond than in Sin City.  Once again, the violence is simple and brutal, as black and white as the primary film palette, and the charm gives way to a long and torturous night that drags in length.  Rodriguez makes the unusual decision to split this story into halves with no through-line between the intervening story, and drags to a halt any momentum the grifter's tale generated.

Bruce Willis returns as a ghost, a decision which removes the punch of Hartigan's noble death in the first.

Bruce Willis returns as a ghost, a decision which removes the punch of Hartigan's noble death in the first film, and introduces a lot of awkward scenes where he is just hovering around here in the second.

The only good segment in the film is also based on one of the weakest original stories, "A Dame to Kill For."  That dark humor that made Sin City such a joy is in full display as outrageous sex scenes give way to demented vengeance and the ninja prostitutes of Old Town return.  Josh Brolin is a decent stand-in for Clive Owen in the Dwight Role, but he is outshone by every other performer.  Christopher Maloney and Jeremy Piven work the good cop / bad cop angle out in an unexpected way, and Rosario Dawson is welcome as ever in the role of Gail.  But this segment, and the entire film, is lifted up by the presence of Eva Green, whose vicious line reading and confident body language dominate in a way that influences the visuals, giving her form contrast and beauty in exquisite shots from Rodriguez.

But Green's performance is the key to why A Dame to Kill For just doesn't work most of the time.  She has to take a typical femme fatale role and supercharge it with her performance to generate heat.  Everyone else has their typical revenge stories as well, and now that the violence is and style settles for routine beat downs repeated multiple times over the course of a two-hour film, the previously exhilarating style grows wearying.  When I left Sin City, the scale of the metropolis was established in stories of far-reaching corruption and perversion that catered to every taste.  A Dame to Kill For is disappointingly small in scope by having almost all the stories relate to Marv or Senator Roarke, and condensing the chaotic city into this bar where everyone knows your name.

Rodriguez no longer has a story filled with brilliant sequences but interesting props, like the poker cards, or fun reveals, like Nancy's scarred battle-face.  The tales of vengeance bleed into each other, creating one overlong scenario of revenge instead of the differing styles of nightmare noir that fueled the original.  A Dame to Kill For isn't bad, but the price of admission would be better spent with a night on the town - it's sure to be more memorable.

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Tail - A Dame to Kill ForSin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014)

Directed by Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller.
Screenplay written by Frank Miller.
Starring Mickey Rourke, Powers Boothe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Josh Brolin, Eva Green, and Jessica Alba.

Posted by Andrew

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  1. Good review Andrew. Some parts of it were cool, some parts of it were just exactly like the first. Except not nearly as cool.

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