The film takes the vibrancy of the illustrated page and dulls it like a stone, the rough edges of which have been eroded away by thousands of years of ocean waves.
When it was released in 2005, Sin City was a punch in the gut to a Hollywood, whose staid method of movie production was in desperate need reinvention. Sin City, one of the earliest and most faithful graphic novel adaptations in this new era of comic book supremacy, blazed with director Robert Rodriguez’s signature passion for filmmaking and inventiveness. Shooting almost entirely in front of green screens and giving his actors little more to work with than costumes and prop guns, Rodriguez singlehandedly launched the digital cinematography revolution and changed cinema.
Unfortunately, very little has changed for Rodriguez and Co. since 2005. With his follow-up installment, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, Rodriguez has become the epitome of the approach to filmmaking Sin City did so much to abolish. In the intervening nine years, Rodriguez has not refreshed his vision at all except to employ the trendy use of 3D. Despite almost unimaginable advances in what can be accomplished through the combination of digital cameras and CGI technology, Dame looks exactly like Sin City did in 2005. Worse, Rodriguez’s dedication to his source material, the graphic novels written by Frank Miller (who is credited with the script writing and co-directing), takes the vibrancy of the illustrated page and dulls it like a stone, the rough edges of which have been eroded away by thousands of years of ocean waves.
As with the first film, Dame is composed of multiple stories drawn from different volumes of Miller’s graphic novel series. Our protagonists (there are no heroes in Sin City) blend in with the noir world of the film, which is populated by bad guys and worse guys. Dwight (Josh Brolin), whom we met in a different incarnation in Sin City, is a violent but honest man whose unbreakable addiction to his former lover Ava (Eva Green) will likely get him killed. Marv (Mickey Rourke), whom we also recognize from the first film, is as rough and grumpy as ever, but is willing to help Dwight in his quest for answers.
Nancy (Jessica Alba), who dances on stage at the bar which is central to the film’s events, is struggling with the death of Hartigan (Bruce Willis) and the knowledge that the man responsible is within reach (but untouchable) nearly every night. Finally, there’s Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a cocky gambler who makes a painful mistake when he crosses paths with Senator Roark (Powers Boothe) at a poker game.
Whereas Sin City gracefully introduced its characters and moved from one story to another, Dame clunks along like a four-year-old dragging a bag of rocks. The stories—all based on the graphic novels, except for the Johnny storyline—become burdensome, too weighed down by the constant voiceover accompaniment. Instead of taking a new approach, Rodriguez composes this film in exactly the same way as the first.
Dame is propped up by the cast’s performances, all of which strike the right balance between campy and serious. Gordon-Levitt is perfectly cast as the cocky pretty boy you just want to punch in the face. He plays his part with the utmost level of cool, and you can’t help but cheer him on. Brolin, seething more than we’ve ever seen him, practically jumps off the screen. Dwight’s anger is so raw it could be added to a steakhouse menu. Alba, though, is particularly impressive as she embodies Nancy’s fast decline into alcoholism and violence.
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is more of the same from a filmmaker who typically defies expectations. If you need a fix of neo-noir, just watch Sin Cityagain and save yourself a whole lot of boredom. | Matthew Newlin