Movie Review - Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
It was April 2005 when the first Sin City film came out. Now, truth be told, I’ve got some sentimental attachment to the film…it was the movie that constituted my first date with my now long-time girlfriend. It would be 9 years later that Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller would eventually team up to bring us the sequel Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. After such a long wait, was the film worth it?
In a word…no.
But since I had to sit through it, I feel like I have to make you sit through the review. I think that right there sums up my thoughts on the film, really…at the one-hour mark, I looked at my watch, then to the blu-ray display telling me how much time had elapsed, then to the case to look at the fact that I still had around 40 minutes to go yet…then a disgusted sigh followed by “fuuuuuuck. Really?”
Part of the problem, for me, was the non-linear storytelling. Granted, the first film wasn’t exactly linear either, sure, that’s a valid point…and I will say that the non-linear nature of the first film didn’t really bother me. But now, after so much time had elapsed, you’ve got the first film followed up by a prequel-sequel-at-the-same-time-as film with new actors replacing those that had either passed from this realm or passed on the questionable script. Let me explain what I mean by that last dig. There are a couple of things to look at here. First, the original Sin City comics ran through the 90s…wrapping in 1998, the bulk of those stories serving as the foundation for the first film. Only two stories remained…Family Values and the eponymous A Dame to Kill For. So already we’re starting off with less material that we did with the first film. That, ordinarily, wouldn’t be an issue with talented writers behind the production. Given his other films, there’s no doubt that Rodriguez, in my mind at least, retains that label. Miller, on the other hand? Well…there’s a bit of a trend. Let’s start off with the ill-advised cash-grab that was his sequel to The Dark Knight Returns, The Dark Knight Strikes Again…or DK2. I’ll be honest, I’ve not read it in its entirety, but what I do know of it and what I’ve heard has not been kind. Similarly of his All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder series. The consensus seems to be that Miller is attempting to imitate his old self and coming off as a self-satire…a poor caricature of who he used to be. Again, I can’t say I have any direct input on this using those two sources as a foundation for the argument. However, if you take a look at Frank Miller’s solo follow up film to Sin City, The Spirit, named after Will Eisner’s famous creation, that’s where I can step in and say ‘yup, he is fading into caricature’. You see, Miller’s ‘The Spirit’ ended up trying hard to bridge film noir from the 1940’s and camp that it completely fell victim to the latter. I’d say the same of this second Sin City film…it tries REALLY hard to be a series of hard-nosed, two-fisted noir pulp stories or other similar brand of story…but ultimately it tries TOO HARD…and devolves into caricature REALLY quickly. Thus it’s not a surprise to discover that a majority of the film, “The Long Bad Night parts 1 & 2” and “Nancy’s Last Dance” were new material written by Miller for the film…sadly, once again living up to his post-2000 reputation of being a mere shadow of the talent he once was.
The resulting film ends up being a series of stories that either become predictable or don’t really grab the viewer in any way. Sure, the cast involved does their best to work with the material, but none of them can really save it. Josh Brolin picks up the role of Dwight in the wake of not being able to lure Clive Owen back and he does a decent job with it, even though, again, the change in casting is jarring. Eva Green definitely gets a Drive-In Award for her…ahem…performance…if you know what I mean and I think you do. [Can you at least limit yourself to only ripping off Joe Bob Briggs once per sentence? A two-fer like that is going to get us sued! – Ed.] Dennis Haysbert does a fine job filling in for the late, great, Michael Clarke Duncan…yet at the same time, I just could NOT stop making ‘Good Hands’ jokes any time he appeared on screen. A fair amount of the cast from the first film do indeed return though, Bruce Willis as the ghost of John Hartigan (and yeah, plenty of 6th Sense jokes to be made there), Jessica Alba as Nancy Callahan, Mickey Rourke as Marv, Powers Booth as Senator Roark, Jamie King as Wendy & Goldie and Rosario Dawson as Gail…but even they can’t save the film and in some ways, even add to the fact that this film is a pale shade of its groundbreaking predecessor. In fact, it really shows yet another sin this film commits…more of the same and not pushing the boundaries into new ground.
That makes a great segue into my next point…the visuals. Back in 2005, the thought of a film that had no set save for that built by CGI was still a novel concept…pioneered by Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow a year earlier and nearly perfected with the release of 300 (another work based of Frank Miller) the next year in 2006. The problem is that since then, Hollywood has generally found a good balance between practical sets and CGI. Unfortunately, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For didn’t get the memo. The visuals harken directly back to the 2005 original…and, well, you just can’t do that and expect to remain viable. The audiences’ eye has evolved since then and thus, some alteration had to occur. It didn’t though…and while watching the film, the first thing that sprang into my mind was those FMV CD-ROM video games from the 90s…you know, the ones with the bad action, bad acting and the very clearly computer generated sets and effects that didn’t convince anyone. Sure, Sin City 2 isn’t as bad as all that, but it does have a similar flavor. In essence, the filmmakers, Miller and Rodriguez, simply went back to the classic formula without thinking they’d need to add a few extra spices here and there to wow the audience again after such a long break. The end result looks far more dated than it should.
Who knows? Maybe I’m being needlessly hard on the film. Maybe if I were to watch both films back to back that maybe my opinion will change. But that’s just it…if I have to watch the 2005 film immediately before the 2014 film…well, then that’s kind of admitting that the more recent film cannot stand on its own…another cardinal sin in cinema. What would’ve most likely had changed my opinion is if A Dame to Kill For was released, say, in 2007 or 2008. The iron was still hot then…the first film was still fresh and the audience was still there. A lot can happen in 9 years…and a lot can be forgotten. In the case of Sin City, that original creative spark behind Miller’s original comics had imploded, leaving us with the Miller we have today…a shell of something once great. And I can think of no better way to describe this film. It’s just that: a shell of something once great.