‘Sin City’ Sequel Delivers Babes, Blood And Beatings
Seductive Visual Style Can’t Hide Film’s Shortcomings
Friday, August 22, 2014
“Out of the Past” (1947)
“Sin City” (2005)
In 2005, Robert Rodriguez adapted Frank Miller’s monochromatic graphic novels about the hardboiled nether world of Basin City and its morally challenged inhabitants. Miller’s pen and ink images had a stark black and white allure and Rodriguez developed a visual style for the screen that captured the look beautifully. The first film packed a mean punch and got Miller’s stories right – from the sweet natured hulk Marv to the kick-ass whores of Old Town.
The sequel, which takes the title of Miller’s book “A Dame to Kill For,” is less impressive. One of the problems is the timeline. It should take place before the events of the first film but not everything lines up for that to make sense. I feel like I want to see the first film again to see if I can make sense of it. Unfortunately that proves to be a distraction because this time around Rodriguez and Miller don’t craft a script that’s engrossing enough to hold our undivided attention.
The film starts with Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) as a cocky gambler with an itch to challenge the corrupt senator Roark (Powers Boothe) at the poker table. As you might expect, this ends badly. Then we cut to the other storyline that the title refers to. The dame of the title is Ava (Eva Green) and she is a femme fatale that chews men up and spits them out with all the emotional attachments of someone chewing gum. She’s bad, through and through, and even though Dwight (Josh Brolin taking over the character from Clive Owen) knows that, he can’t resist her. She’s not just a dame to kill for but also one that men will willingly die for.
In a sense, the film is much like Ava. I know it’s bad (or at least flawed) and yet I can’t help being seduced by it. The black and white with flashes of color is intoxicating, and now and then the clipped hardboiled dialogue sounds like poetry. But the parts are better than the whole. Individual scenes – like Dwight taking a beating or Johnny at the poker table – are bits of perfection. But the film careens wildly like the cars taking bad curves on the way to Basin City. I think Miller’s collaboration in the film actually hurts. His cinematic outing of adapting “The Spirit” to the screen was painful for anyone who loved the comic. His “Sin City” books are all that Rodriguez needs and I think Rodriguez on his own might have crafted a better film.
The casting – with the exception of Jessica Alba’s bland Nancy – is spot on. Mickey Rourke’s makeup as Marv is a bit less convincing than last time (or maybe he’s just not shot as well) but he is Marv. Gordon-Levitt and Brolin slip into this world with ease and make us wish there were more opportunities for black and white noir films for them. Green makes a ruthless femme fatale and never bats an eyelash as she destroys men.
I know Miller with his one-dimensional sense of character and proclivity for giving us women as sex objects (although sex objects who often use sex to bring men down and who have no problem resorting to violence) can be an acquired taste. But he nails the particular tone and style of Basin City noir and I have to confess I enjoy it. I also admire the fact that Rodriguez continues to make whatever films he wants outside of the Hollywood industry. He is a truly independent filmmaker, and kudos for that even if this particular outing is flawed.
“Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” (rated R for strong brutal bloody violence, grisly images, some strong sexual content and nudity) delivers on the sex and violence that its R rating promises. But sadly it doesn’t deliver as carefully a crafted narrative as the first “Sin City” and in that respect it is a disappointment. But I have to say, I’m a sucker for a film that looks this good. Maybe that’s why I identify with Dwight.
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