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Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR

3 Stars (out of 4)

Directors: Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez

Cast: Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Josh Brolin, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Eva Green, Powers Booth, Dennis Haysbert, Rosario Dawson, Bruce Willis, Christopher Meloni, Jeremy Piven, Jamie Chung, Juno Temple, Ray Liotta, Jude Ciccolella, Julia Garner, Marton Csokas, Jaime King, Christopher Lloyd, Lady Gaga, Stacy Keach

MPAA Rating: R (for strong brutal stylized violence throughout, sexual content, nudity, and brief drug use)

Running Time: 1:42

Release Date: 8/22/14


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Review by Mark Dujsik | August 21, 2014

In Sin City, the women were damsels of distress and objects of desire. The key exceptions, of course, were the prostitutes of Old Town, who possessed a deadly code of territorial enforcement. For the most part, though, the women were victims of serial killers and rapists and other scummy excuses for men. The heroes were better but only by comparison. They claimed to want to protect women, but that protection came with the inherent suggestion that the men were really in control. Save for one exception, the heroes would abuse the women they idolized, despite assertions that they would never hit a woman. It was the concept of chivalry inflated to a patronizing, violent nightmare.

In Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, the women get to do a lot more than they did in the previous film. That's not to say that the film has discovered a feminist streak. The two women who do have more prominent roles here are a self-destructive stripper with a mission for revenge and a femme fatale whose incredible sex appeal casts out a wide net to entrap her eager male prey. These women are broadly realized, and they aren't exactly people to put on a pedestal. In this world, though, that at least puts them in the same realm as their male counterparts. The men got to seek revenge and play with the lives of women in the first film. In the sequel, the women are just catching up to the men.

Once again, the film offers short vignettes of the lives of various characters in Basin City as they fight their own demons and confront seemingly unending corruption. The structure of the first film ignored the chronology of its sequences. Characters who had died suddenly returned, turning them into ghosts of vengeance and injustice past. They weren't actually ghosts, of course, although the sequel does have a legitimate one. He must helplessly watch a woman, whom he believed he had rescued from a cycle of violence and vice, become even more entrenched in it. The first film knocked down one figure of systemic corruption, only to go back in time to find another. The cycle never ends.

The stories in the second film, which is again directed by Frank Miller (who also wrote the screenplay based on a few of his graphic novels) and Robert Rodriguez, take place in between the ones from the first film. That web of corruption just gets thicker and thicker.

We see Dwight (Josh Brolin), who winds up with a wound on his forehead, before he undergoes facial reconstruction surgery, as he undertakes a battle of wills with Ava (Eva Green), a manipulative sexpot in a sapphire dress and with emerald eyes. We see Hartigan (Bruce Willis), whose forehead scar is similar to the injury Dwight receives, after he committed suicide to save Nancy (Jessica Alba), who ends up with plenty of future scars on her own face, from the evil Senator Roark (Powers Booth), who has eyes of steel. We also have the return of Marv (Mickey Rourke), whose entire face seems to be made up of scar tissue, before he suffers overkill twice. The new hero is Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a gambler who never loses at the games he plays but seems hell-bent on losing his own life to beat Roark.

The tales feel a little less cohesive as a whole this time. The thematic through line isn't as sturdy (It's a vague exploration of corruption and acting on the edge of society, with a lot of scenes taking place on a cliff-side road), so we're left focusing on the individual worthiness of each story. The strongest is Dwight's, and most of its success comes from Green's hyper-sexualized version of the archetype. The yarn is especially a showcase for Miller's tough-as-concrete phrasings in voice-over (When he fights a difficult foe, Dwight notes that "An atom bomb exploded between my legs") and in the rat-a-tat-tat exchanges between Dwight and Ava—in between their love-making and life-taking, of course.

Johnny relies more on cunning, making him an intriguing addition to a cast of characters who mostly rely on brawn. He bucks the trend of assertive masculine figures in the film by making himself into a victim. His strength is in coming back for more punishment. Nancy gets to become a hard-drinking, revenge-seeking, and gun-toting heroine, but by the time her story comes around, the familiar elements hold it back. Marv stars in the prologue, hunting down some murderous frat boys, but he's reduced to the role of muscle-for-hire for the protagonists in the other tales.

The vital thing is that the film retains the living-comic-book aesthetic of its predecessor. The film is shot primarily in black-and-white (with Rodriguez serving as cinematographer) with splashes of color for emphasis. Marv's eyes turn blood-red as he hears of the abuse of a woman. Ava's eyes become green as we learn of her greedy motive. Blood gushes in blinding flashes of white, unless it's a hero who's injured, in which case it's a shiny red. Miller and Rodriguez are especially fond of silhouettes. We see Johnny pummel an attacker as a black shadow against the vibrant white of a streetlamp's light, and there are moments where those black-on-white shots become like a photo negative.

The look worked before, and it's just as arresting in the sequel. Even when any given story seems to slip from whatever connecting theme we might try to grasp, the vision of Miller and Rodriguez remains a unifying factor, and even though Sin City: A Dame to Kill For isn't as effective as its predecessor, it is still a worthy trip to a brutal and exciting world.

Copyright © 2014 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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