Film Review: Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

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In 2005, the cinematic world was blessed with an extraordinarily unique and breathtakingly stylistic gem of a film. Co-directed by indie action film auteur Robert Rodriguez, and famed comic book creator Frank Miller, Sin City was a no-holds-barred neo-noir masterpiece. Using the acclaimed series as its source material, Rodriguez was able to bring Miller’s distinctive voice and seedy artwork to life. With an all-star cast, incredible visuals, and four intense, original stories; Sin City was and will always be the most faithful comic book adaptation of all-time. It was, above all else, ahead of its time. The film was received well by both critics and audiences alike, and with an extensive back catalog of Miller’s stories, it was only a matter of time before a sequel was made. Coincidentally it was time that would end up hurting the long awaited sequel, Sin City: A Dame To Kill For.

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The first film was based on four of Miller’s Sin City stories, “The Hard Goodbye,” “The Big Fat Kill,” “That Yellow Bastard,” and “The Customer Is Always Right.” It also featured an amazing cast that included Jessica Alba as Nancy, Rosario Dawson as Gail, Clive Owen as Dwight, Mickey Rourke as Marv, and Bruce Willis as Hartigan. For the sequel, most of the main cast has returned, except for Clive Owen who was replaced by Josh Brolin, but more on that later. Rodriguez and Miller had also decided to only include two previous stories “A Dame To Kill For,” and the short story “Just Another Saturday Night.” Miller opted to write two original stories instead, “Nancy’s Last Dance” and “The Long Bad Night,” the latter of which focused on Johnny played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, a newcomer to the series. With much anticipation, new additions to the cast, and two brand new stories from Miller, A Dame To Kill For should have been one of the best films of the year. But, while it wasn’t a total disappointment, but it was exceedingly mediocre for a film that could have and should have been so much more.

The problems start almost immediately as the movie begins. It starts with “Just Another Saturday Night,” a lackluster short story featuring everyone’s favorite violence-obsessed brute, Marv. The first film also began with the short story “The Customer Is Always Right,” the short story that perfectly introduces you to the cruel gritty world of Sin City and felt like a single story, but ended up having a true conclusion at the closing scene of the film. “Just Another Saturday Night” felt immediately out of place and was an incredibly lazy way to start the film. It is basically Miller and Rodriguez saying to the audience “here we go again.” It was also a sign of a ton of repetition to come, as Marv would end up appearing in not one, nor two, but in all four stories. One of the great things about the first film was how subtle they made it seem that all of these characters and separate stories can take place in the same universe at different points in time. Marv dies in “The Hard Goodbye,” and then is suddenly alive in “The Big Fat Kill,” but all he does is make a small cameo and it doesn’t take you away from the story. In A Dame To Kill For he is a central character in three our of four stories, and the cameo he makes in the “The Long Bad Night” could be misconstrued that he will have a larger role later in the story.

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The complications in the structure of the film don’t stop there. Another major problem is how the directors chose to divide the films. They divided the two new stories, “Nancy’s Last Dance” and “The Long Bad Night” into two parts. Unfortunately these two stories are too weak to be separated into two parts. The first story focuses on Nancy trying to get over the loss of Hartigan, but has become an alcoholic in need of revenge against Senator Roarke (Powers Booth), the man she holds responsible for Hartigan’s suicide. Although Alba completely owns the role, the story itself is bland and predictable with the second act only being a little more enjoyable thanks to a few great scenes between Nancy and Marv. Going into the film, I was really excited to finally watch Johnny’s story since it was the only true original story, since Nancy’s was basically a direct sequel to “That Yellow Bastard.” Gordon-Levitt was perfectly casted as the wise cracking cocky gambler, Johnny. The poker scenes between Johnny and Senator Roarke were well executed and contained some of the film’s best tension. While it was entertaining, the story itself was just two basic and contained a lackluster ending. The sad thing is that if the film was re-cut the story could be fantastic if it was shown in a different way. It would have been much better either being the beginning and ending of the film, told all at once, or even being intertwined with Nancy’s story.

The strongest story, “A Dame To Kill For,” features Dwight McCarthy as a private detective trying to put his past behind him. Unfortunately for him, his past comes back in the form of an old flame named Ava Lord (Eva Green). Brolin takes over the reigns as Dwight from Clive Owen and the change of actors is not out of the ordinary since this story takes place years before the events of “The Big Fat Kill,” and before Dwight had plastic surgery. Using her powers of seduction, Ava tricks Dwight into thinking that her husband is abusing her, so Dwight enlists the help of Marv to come and save Ava. In a rage, Dwight kills Ava’s husband and is then is shot in the face by Ava. While Dwight hides out in Old Town, Ava seduces a detective named Mort (played fantastically by Christopher Meloni of Law and Order: SVU) and tries to have him hunt down Dwight only to end up shooting his partner and subsequently himself. Dwight ends up getting plastic surgery to fix the damage to his face and to gain access into Ava’s mansion to seek revenge. This is where one small thing ruins the story.

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When you see Dwight for the first time after the surgery you hope that Clive Owen has returned to reprise his role and to keep with continuity. Regrettably, they opted to try to make Josh Brolin look like Clive Owen’s version of Dwight, with terrible results. The end of the story cannot be taken seriously because of how utterly ridiculous Brolin looks. That’s not to say “A Dame To Kill For” was bad, in fact it is by far the most entertaining and worthwhile story in the film with excellent performances from Brolin, Green, Meloni, and Rourke. Besides the addition of a cameo from Clive Owen, the only thing that would have made Dwight’s story better would have been to split it up into two parts, which could have easily been done.

There are a few other things that I wasn’t a fan of during my second visit of Sin City. Predominantly using black and white, Rodriguez and Miller only used color in the first film when they wanted to show a particular character trait or put emphasis on specific object. In A Dame To Kill For however, it seems that color is used pointlessly throughout the film. Although it doesn’t particularly take anything away from the film, it does add to the fact that the first film paid more attention to smaller details than the sequel. The callbacks to Senator Roarke’s son were also incredibly out of place. It makes sense that a father would have a picture or a portrait of his murdered son in his office. However it makes absolutely no sense that the pictures of his son are of when he was a deranged and disfigured yellow goblin-like creature. Who would want to remember their son like that? Then again, he did love his child-molesting murderer of a son. So it’s not unlikely that the Senator may have had a screw loose, but I digress.

Overall, the long awaited sequel to Sin City was enjoyable for fans of the original and the comic book series, however, the nine year gap and two boring original stories did not help it exceed its predecessor.

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Al Mannarino is the music editor for Pop-Break as well as the host of the News Over Brews Podcast. He graduated Rowan University with a degree in Radio/TV/Film & History and is currently a Promotions Assistant for Clear Channel Media + Entertainment. When he isn’t writing he is either trying to build his own TARDIS or taking a nap. Follow him on Twitter: @almannarino

Al Mannarino is the associate editor and photographer for Pop Break. He is also host of the News Over Brews Podcast, Loot Care Unboxed, Backstage Break, and the producer of Behind the Brews. He graduated Rowan University with a degree in Radio/TV/Film & History. When he isn’t writing he is either trying to build his own TARDIS or taking a nap. Follow him on Twitter: @almannarino. His photo website is: http://alfredmannarino.com