Nine years after the original, Sin City is still unique
by Jorge Ignacio Castillo
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
A Dame to Kill For is by far the strongest entry in Frank Miller’s Sin City comic universe. The story distills crime noir to its very essence: Dwight (Josh Brolin), a down-on-his-luck photographer, reconnects with the old flame Ava (Eva Green), who left him for a richer man. An exquisite blend of femme fatale and damsel in distress, Ava convinces Dwight that she’s a slave to the twisted desires of her husband and his manservant, and that her days are seriously numbered. Dwight’s still in love with her, so he immediately steps in to help, unaware that Ava’s playing him like a fiddle.
Just like it is in the comics, the tale of Ava and Dwight is the strongest aspect of the film adaptation of Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. Although nine years have passed since the original movie (which killed off two lead characters), the spirit is the same: broad, dirty and hardboiled to a fault. No movies have come closer to reproducing the graphic novel experience on film, as blotchy blacks, paper whites and strategically placed hits of colour enhance the proceedings.
Alongside “A Dame to Kill For”, we get three other tales of betrayal, revenge and senseless violence. In “Just Another Saturday Night”, chivalrous brute Marv (Mickey Rourke) finds himself surrounded by corpses with no clue what happened. “The Long Bad Night” features Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a poker prodigy looking for action. Unfortunately for him, the hottest table in town is run by Basin City’s most dangerous man, Senator Roark (Powers Boothe). And “Nancy’s Last Dance” shows an unraveling stripper (Jessica Alba) gathering the courage to avenge her former protector, John Hartigan (Bruce Willis), whose presence still haunts her.
Don’t worry too much about the chronology. Characters that died in the first movie are back for more, but the general feeling is that this isn’t a prequel: Hartigan and that Yellow Bastard are still very much six feet under. In the comics, “A Dame To Kill For” and “Just Another Saturday Night” unfolded simultaneously, which I guess explains Marv’s surprising return from a double-shot of electric chair. But some other consistency issues are distracting: remember the lengths Senator Roark went to to ensure his legacy in the first movie? Yeah, it’s not an issue anymore.
Director Robert Rodríguez, whose stock has fallen after too many flops (Shorts, Grindhouse, two Machetes), remains a stylist rather than a storyteller. The yarn at the centre of it all is impeccably unfurled, but the bookends leave something to be desired. Alba may be deft at pole-dancing, but she’s not the strongest performer, so hanging an entire segment on her is a risk that doesn’t pay off. And “The Long Bad Night” (developed especially for the film) has a lot of potential, but it’s all squandered by a silly conclusion.
Some of the cast adapts much better to the Sin City mise-en-scene than others. Hard faces like Rourke, Boothe and Josh Brolin (replacing Clive Owen as Dwight) are perfect for this environment, and the casting of Green as Ava Lord is pure genius. She exudes sensuality and danger, the fundamental qualities of a good femme fatale, and is a perfect match with Brolin — a Bogart and Bacall for our ultraviolent times.
Not brilliant, but entertaining and unique.
Jorge will be at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival starting Sept. 4. Read all his coverage on Dog Blog at www.prairiedogmag.com. You can also follow him on twitter: @jicastillo.
Opens August 29
There’s a distinct disassociation between Australian cinema and the Aussies I’ve come across in my life: remarkably well adjusted people capable of crafting the bleakest nightmares. Check out some of their most famous productions: Mad Max, Picnic at Hanging Rock, Wolf Creek, The Proposition, Animal Kingdom. Even Babe: Pig in the City went to some dark corners.
Speaking of Animal Kingdom, The Rover is that film’s director’s second feature. Although it’s as disheartening as David Michôd’s opera prima, this follow-up lacks the texture of Kingdom or the complex relationships at play. Stripped of those qualities, The Rover proudly refuses to engage with the audience and the outcome is less than satisfying.
Unsociable drifter Eric (Guy Pearce, as per regulation) gets his car stolen by a trio of malcontents. Instead of getting himself another one, Eric pursues the thieves across a post-apocalyptic Australian outback. As luck has it, the antihero runs into the brother of one of the criminals (Robert Pattinson with a terrible haircut), a simpleton left for dead by his posse. The duo doesn’t exactly hit it off, but a gruff camaraderie emerges.
The Rover is not without merit. Pearce and Pattinson do a remarkable job embodying characters whose motivations are muddled or non-existent. The visual composition is starkly beautiful and some of the violence is staged in creative ways. But even the most forgiving moviegoer needs a bone to go on, and this film is only interested in proving how nihilistic can it get. The supposedly illuminating ending is more a final laugh at the audience’s surely exhausted patience than a payoff.
Even militant Twihards would struggle to follow R-Patz to this one.