Cinematic Thoughts for Cinematic Minds
2014/ Cyprus, USA
Director(s): Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez
Starring: Josh Brolin, Eva Green, Jessica Alba, Joseph Gordon- Levitt, Rosario Dawson, Mickey Rourke, Bruce Willis
Since 2005, the actuality of a Sin City sequel was becoming less likely as time went by. Cast members who had portrayed prominent characters from the novels had sadly died (Brittany Murphy in 2009 and Michael Clarke Duncan in 2012); the Weinstein’s were rumoured to have been causing various delays (what’s new?!); and Rodriguez and Miller constantly seemed to have an abundance of other projects on the go. Also – and most mysteriously – since starring in the double-barrel science-fiction misfire that was Surrogates (2009), Bruce Willis’s acting suggests that he had now indeed employed an android-surrogate of himself to perform in all of the movies he would subsequently appear in instead of his actual self. The outlook was bleak… But alas, nine years later and a sequel has finally arrived – Sin City: A Dame To Kill For.
The world of Sin City can be best described as ‘neo-noir on steroids’. The palette is black & white with the odd splash of colour for symbolism, style or blood (a colour-scheme much like Coppola’s Rumble Fish which featured a younger Mickey Rourke). The locations suggest modern day but the fashion, cars and hard-boiled dialogue often contradict this, but not always. It’s a violent city dominated by vigilantes, femme fatales and crooked officials, a place that is seemingly frozen in a perpetual night where seductive bodies are used as weapons just as often as shotguns or cleavers.
Although the word “sequel” has been used in this review thus far for convenience, it is neither a sequel nor a prequel in its entirety. One of the vignettes is a direct follow on from ‘That Yellow Bastard’ which formed the main framework of the original, whereas another of the vignettes is something of a precursor to ‘The Big Fat Kill’, both which are sequences from the original, respectively. Stories cross paths and the chronology doesn’t play by the rules of conventional storytelling allowing stone-dead characters to return, such is the nature of the graphic novels.
Stylistically, Sin City: A Dame To Kill For is more-or-less the same as the first (aside from the 3D, which adds nothing). Quite obviously, the pages from the graphic novels were used as storyboards which is a masterstroke considering the green-screen approach to filming which has been employed; the illustrations have literally been allowed to leap out of the page to uncanny effect. But instead of the visual style overshadowing the characters, the style becomes a character in itself – overbearing and totally inescapable during every scene. For example, the lenses of the eyeglasses on the faces of the corrupt and evil are white and opaque, the eyes of a malevolent seductress are poison-green, and a character is figuratively cut to ribbons by the winning poker hand of an unscrupulous senator – anything to make the scene more striking for the hell of it.
Determinable from the title, the story which takes up the biggest percent of the run-time is indeed ‘A Dame To Kill For’ – a tale involving Dwight (Josh Brolin) who is being seduced by Ava (Eva Green, who completely steals the film with sardonic humour and immoral magnetism), a sultry old flame of his who of course has a hidden agenda of her own. But therein lies the major problem for the film. Whereas the original Sin City had finely balanced segments which shared the duration of the film evenly, this time, too much priority is given to one great story leaving the remainders to resemble afterthoughts in comparison; overall the structure feels rough and saggy.
Amongst the stories featured in the original film, the ’Dame To Kill For’ segment fits in well and is most definitely the strongest of the three on show here. It’s a shame however that Clive Owen was not available to complete Dwight’s facial transition, but Brolin fills in satisfactorily. Where the ‘Dame To Kill For’ feels more fleshed out as a narrative, the two remaining are a lot shorter and therefore a lot less significant.
‘The Long Bad Night’ sequence features Johnny (Joseph Gordon Levitt), an overconfident gambler who wins big against the wrong people, pays the price for it and then swears for revenge. The story is split in half within the film (much like ‘That Yellow Bastard’ in the original) but instead of this suiting the story, it unfortunately thins it out. Despite the second half of this segment serving as an appropriate segue into the final story of the film, you may just be left puzzling over what the purpose of Lady Gaga’s distracting cameo actually was, and not much else.
Where Sin City: A Dame To Kill For really comes apart is the final sequence entitled ‘Nancy’s Last Dance’; one written specifically for the film in which Nancy (Jessica Alba) goes off the rails and decides to get revenge for the death of Det. Hartigan, (Bruce Willis) the cop who saved her from being molested and murdered as a child (‘That Yellow Bastard’ story). Hartigan pops up in the capacity of a ghost but other than that doesn’t really do much, in fact his presence is only justified by a contrived deus ex machina intervention which helps resolve the story. And then, quite suddenly, the film ends. It is understandable that Miller and Rodriguez wanted to exploit the possible open-endedness of ‘That Yellow Bastard’, but in fact all they have done is tack on another ending onto a story which was already finished and basically gives Alba something else to do other than serve as eye-candy.
Furthermore, the same old questions will be asked of the risqué portrayal of women – who, whether they be angels or whores, rarely wear much clothing. But in Miller’s and Rodriguez’s defence, at least the female characters are empowered, autonomous and don’t sit back allowing the men to do the dirty deeds.
Ultimately, Sin City: A Dame To Kill For is a diluted version of the 2005 original. Fans will be glad to know that the dazzling visual style, gallows humour and overly-excessive dialogue has remained untouched; but the film just becomes unstuck as it goes forward with the final sequence being the biggest let down. Looking back, the original had a prologue and an epilogue which linked and tied the film up nicely. Not that anyone would want the structure to be a carbon copy of the original, but the ‘Booze, Broads & Bullets’ novel (a collection of short Sin City stories) could have easily been mined to give this film more balance and a better sense of closure.
Sin City: A Dame To Kill For is not a total failure, and it’s probably a lot better than many fans feared considering Rodriguez’s recent efforts (Machete Kills, oh dear!). But, two stories of the three appear rather trivial in the grand scheme of the film. Ok, so the title of the film is ‘A Dame To Kill For’ but what’s the point of including two other stories if they aren’t going to at least try to be up to scratch with the leading one. Despite the nine year wait for it, a few pivotal parts of this film feels strangely rushed.