Sin City 2: A Dame To Kill For
Do you have a soft spot for films where the men are absurdly masculine and the women are either tough broads or seductive dames?
How about grim and gritty narration from hard-luck losers, filled with cliched lines like "That right there is a dame to kill for"?
Are you okay with the following noir genre tropes:
- Rough-edged and spirited strippers/hookers/women of any occupation with hearts of gold;
- Everyone double crossing everyone else at every turn;
- Plenty of gruesome violence?
Then you'll love the Sin City films, especially if you also enjoy comics. If you don't dig anything I've mentioned yet - even ironically - then why are you even reading this?
Co-directors Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller have crafted two Sin City films that beautifully translate Miller's dynamic comic book panel layouts to the silver screen. They also retain the heavy noir style Miller has been trafficking in for decades now, nowhere more so than in his Sin City comics.
I finally saw the sequel to 2005's Sin City recently. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014) brings back the same bold visual look and gritty crime drama feel of the first film. Once again, Miller and Rodriguez pack the film with visually groundbreaking eye candy while staying true to the template Miller laid out in the books: shot in color, it's converted to the same high-contrast black and white used in the comics, with splashes of color for emphasis placed strategically throughout. With these films, Miller and Rodriguez more than achieve their goal of making faithful translations of the source material.
In terms of plot and character development, A Dame to Kill For is exactly what you'd expect from the Sin City brand, featuring more stories lifted from the books about hard-boiled macho men with guns blazing and bad-ass women in various states of undress, also with guns blazing. If you have a background with the comics, or even just the first film, then you know what you're in for. It's a series of interconnected vignettes, with characters transitioning into and out of each other's stories along the way. For instance, Jessica Alba's exotic dancer Nancy Callahan appears often throughout before her story is resolved in a final act centered around her, "Nancy's Last Dance". She serves as a through-line, and in many ways is both the film's hero and heart. While each story is fundamentally basic, they gain more weight together as their connections are revealed organically.
Nancy is still performing her crowd-pleasing stage show at Kadie's Saloon in the Old Town section of the city. Her dancing is electric but with a harder edge now, with each new routine - and there are at least five of them scattered throughout - revealing more of her fracturing emotional state. Alba gets to wallow in the noir tropes typically reserved for men. Since Nancy's savior and one true love John Hartigan committed suicide (Bruce Willis returns as a ghost still looking out for Nancy), her life has spiraled out of control. Full of anger and self-loathing, she's drinking like a fish and generally being miserable with everybody. She's also formulating a half-baked scheme to kill the man she blames for Hartigan's death, Senator Roark (Powers Boothe, in a typically chilling Powers Boothe performance). Alba really sinks her teeth into this material. Here is just a short list of some of her best moments:
- During one of her dances she kicks an aggressive customer square in the face for getting too handsy;
- From the stage she shoots out another customer's bottle of booze while he's drinking from it;
- She bashes her face into the dressing room mirror, then cuts at her cheeks with a knife, all while sneering like a demented punk rocker.
Throughout, she chugs from one bottle of booze after another with such extreme gusto that you're amazed she's still standing, let alone dancing. By the final portion of "Nancy's Last Dance" she sets aside the booze and transforms into a stealth, cross-bow-carrying, killing machine.
Regular readers will remember the Unified Theory of Jessica Alba, a little something I invented while reviewing 2005's Fantastic Four. What's that and why does it sound so damn intriguing, you ask? Check out that FF review for details. A Dame to Kill For provides another opportunity to put the theory to the test and I can safely report that, once again, it works. Trust me, after you've absorbed the theory, you'll find yourself spotting all of its elements in every Alba film you watch. If I accomplish nothing else with my life, at least I can say I gave the world the Unified Theory of Jessica Alba. You're welcome, world.
The other story here that works best, and is also the film's longest segment, is a "A Dame to Kill For" featuring Eva Green as the titular dame to kill for, Ava Lord. Green plays up every femme fatale trope to the hilt in a deliciously malevolent performance. Josh Brolin takes over for Clive Owen as an older and more nihilistic Dwight, who gets beat up a lot and tossed through more than one plate glass window. Dwight's life is turned upside down by Ava, who uses and disposes of men as if they were tissues. I won't spoil the twists and turns, but it's safe to say Green makes Ava into a memorable femme fatale for the ages, and she and Brolin really sell their twisted relationship.
Familiar faces from the first film are joined by new actors this go round. Mickey Rourke is back as that old softy Marv, giant prosthetic nose and forehead included. Rosario Dawson returns as the leader of the Old Town Girls, dominatrix-prostitute Gail. No surprise, she's still awesome. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Johnny, a character who makes a series of bad choices resulting in nothing but heartache and death. Jamie Chung, as Japanese assassin Miho (played by Devo Aoki in the the first film), shows off some impressive sword skills and ninja maneuvers. It's exhilarating watching her leaping and flying through the air while slicing and dicing the bad guys, with blood splattering everywhere in her wake. The always fantastic Christopher Lloyd pops up in one memorable scene and practically steals the whole movie. Lady Gaga cameos perfectly as a sassy diner waitress with - you guessed it - a heart of gold.
If you love genre films of any kind, or love comic books, A Dame to Kill For should more than satisfy you. At the very least it's an absolute visual treat to behold. As in the comics, it utilizes a classic noir style to create a world all its own. Aiming for the classically trashy exploitation vibe, it's intentionally retrogressive. Some of the stories leave a stronger impression than others, but overall it's a wildly entertaining slice of heavily stylized grindhouse cinema on a big budget. It's by no means deep, but that's not the point. Instead, it's meant to thrill you, to make you squirm, maybe even laugh a little. It accomplishes all of that, and more.