A film review by Craig J. Koban August 29, 2014 


2014, R, 110 mins.


Jessica Alba as Nancy Callahan  /  Mickey Rourke as Marv  /  Jaime King as Goldie/Wendy  /  Rosario Dawson as Gail  /  Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Johnny  /  Dennis Haysbert as Manute  /  Jamie Chung as Miho  /  Josh Brolin as Dwight McCarthy  /  Powers Boothe as Senator Roark  /  Eva Green as Ava Lord  /  Stacy Keach as Wallenquist  /  Ray Liotta as Joey  /  Christopher Meloni as Mort  /  Juno Temple as Sally  /  Bruce Willis as John Hartigan  /  Julia Garner as Marcy

Directed by Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez  /  Written by Miller, based on his graphic novels


To say that SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR simply offers up more of the same that the previous film in the series offered is not only a bit obvious, but also a bit unfair.  

2005’s SIN CITY – based on the graphic novels of the same name by Frank Miller – was a trailblazing original when it premiered: It was the closest thing that I had seen up until that point that felt like a living, breathing comic book come lovingly to life on the silver screen.  SIN CITY preserved – with almost obsessively slavish focus – the stark and intense film noir aesthetic of Miller’s comic panels right down to the minutest detail.  I thought it was a stunning and masterfully bold achievement for the comic book film genre and proudly placed it on my list of the Ten Best Films of 2005

Now, a full nine years later, director Robert Rodriguez and Miller re-team yet again to meticulously adapt another set of SIN CITY narratives – which, in turn, were contained within Miller’s second book in the series – while some story arcs in particular were crafted exclusively for this new film.  SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR, to be absolutely fair, does not have its predecessor’s daring and throw-caution-to-the-wind inventiveness, which consequently leaves it feeling a bit more routine as a result.  Yet, to be fair again, there’s no way that Rodriguez and Miller would have been able to capture their own lightning-in-a-bottle stylistic hubris that made SIN CITY so brutally effective and novel.  SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL for is still, just as much as its antecedent, a stunning tour de force display of visual imagination and technological whiz-bangery that tells a good series of interconnected stories involving loveably amoral and socially grotesque losers.  You can fault the film for not evoking the same sensation of intoxicating awe and wonder as the first film, but this sequel remains a painstakingly and enthusiastically crafted follow-up entry. 



Much akin to the 2005 original, SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR offers up multiple story threads that sometimes coalesce within the other.  Granted, many of the threads here take place a varying times in the past and present, which could leave many in the audience that have not screened the first film in a long time scratching their heads while trying to figure out how this new film’s stories intersect with the last film.  Three of the four stories are actually prequel narratives to the first film (which allows those that died in the original to be resurrected again) whereas the remaining arc takes place after the events of SIN CITY 1.  Despite its sometimes perplexing and convoluted structure, SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR does not waste any time and immediately thrusts viewers back in its hellishly violent and oppressive world.   

First, we are re-introduced to Marv (Mickey Rourke), a nasty piece of work that finds himself battling with a nasty bout of amnesia, which complicates matters immeasurably for him when he gets himself into some dicey trouble.  Secondly, we meet a gutsy, but hot-headed gambler named Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) that never – and I mean never – loses at any game, but he does find himself in some very hot water when he wins at a game of high stakes poker over the dastardly and sociopathic Senator Roarke (Powers Boothe).  The third subplot reacquaints us with Dwight (played by Clive Owen in the first film, now played by Josh Brolin), who gets embroiled with the film’s titular character Ava (Eva Green, in full-on sinful seductress mode) that uses her sexuality and other feminine wiles to get any man to do whatever she wants.  The fourth and final story arc concerns Nancy (Jessica Alba), the stripper from the first film that fell for her lawman protector, Hartigan (Bruce Willis, appearing in ghostly form here).  She has hit emotional rock bottom after his death and blames, yes, Senator Roarke for his death…and begins her own plan of fiery vengeance.   

Again, SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR is a supreme exercise in cinematic style, and Rodriguez and Miller, as they did nine years previously, thrust themselves back into this perverse film universe with the same gusto and unbridled fervor for the material.  The now iconic SIN CITY look – a marriage of live action footage mixed in with computer-generated backgrounds, painted in with lush black and white and specific instances of color – is as thrilling to drink in and behold as ever.  It has been easily said by many that the blatant artificiality of the SIN CITY films stymies and distracts us from the dramatic power of the material and makes the actors puppet-like pawns at the service of the visual effects.  Conversely, I feel that the techniques employed give SIN CITY 1 and 2 a heightened sense of un-reality that evokes the larger than life presence of Miller’s powerfully rendered comic book panels.  A more realistic approach, per se, would have never lent these films as well.  I love the fact that the SIN CITY film universe is as intoxicated with its own visual excesses as the graphic novels that inspired it.   

It’s easy to overlook the thanklessly fine performers here, many of which have to chew out hard-boiled and heavily mannered dialogue passages with a level of gnarly and grounded credibility while playing up to film’s over-the-top flamboyance as well.  Mickey Rourke’s Marv remains an endearingly rendered persona driven by a self-anointed code of honor that’s not afraid of resorting to head-crushing (literally, at times) violence to get the job done.  Brolin and Levitt – series newbies – make Dwight and Johnny deeply flawed characters that often let their own stubborn pride and ill-timed choices get the better of them.  Powers Boothe remains a creepy and thrillingly horrifying screen antagonist.  Jessica Alba’s character is refreshingly given much more to do this time than parade her body on screen as an innocent and vulnerable stripper (which she still does, by the way).  She sinks her teeth in Nancy’s descent into darkness with a rather feisty aplomb. 

SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR, though, is Eva Green’s film through and through.  Just as she demonstrated in 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE earlier this year (another film based on a Frank Miller creation), Green is such a magnetic and powerfully alluring screen presence that she all but steals scenes away from both her fellow male and female co-stars.  There’s a nonchalant sense of fearlessness with Green – she parades around the film in various states of undress throughout – but she uses her overt eroticism as a deadly weapon to ensnare her male prey and do with them as she wishes.  The SIN CITY films have been demonized by some for their unflattering portrayals of women as one-note sex objects.  To the contrary, Green’s Ava is arguably more intellectually shrewd and cunning than a handful of the film’s more oblivious and moronic male characters.  She’s one of the film’s more ruthlessly empowered creations and Green has a field day playing up to Ava’s macabre appetites for wanton social destruction. 

SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR may have arrived too late for most filmgoers – a near-decade after the first film is proof positive of that – so I’m not sure what kind of new audience it will generate outside of those that fell hard for the 2005 entry’s intrepid innovation.  This sequel certainly doesn’t have the immediate sucker-punch-to-the-senses impact of its forerunner and, overall, the new stories don’t quite germinate with as much exhilarating interest.  Yet, SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR is a worthy enough follow-up entry that showcases – through nearly every fabricated shot in the film – its maker's fetishistic love for this bizarrely textured and wondrously envisioned monochromatic world. 

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