Saturday, August 23, 2014

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For / **½ (R)

Marv: Mickey Rourke
Nancy: Jessica Alba
Dwight: Josh Brolin
Johnny: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Gail: Rosario Dawson
Hartigan: Bruce Willis
Ava: Eva Green
Senator Roark: Powers Boothe
Manute: Dennis Haysbert
Joey: Ray Liotta
Mort: Christopher Meloni
Bob: Jeremy Piven
Kroenig: Christopher Lloyd

Dimension Films and Miramax present of film directed by Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller. Written by Frank Miller, based on his graphic novel series. Running time: 102 min. Rated R (for strong brutal stylized violence throughout, sexual content, nudity and brief drug use).

“2005’s “Sin City” represented the ultimate marriage of the two media formats [cinema & graphic novels]. Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller combined their talents, with a little help from Quentin Tarantino, to near literally present a comic book on screen. Miller’s gritty noir graphic novel, upon which the movie is based, reads like some sort of noir hell where the characters are archetypes paying for the sins of all their ancestors in bullets and blood. “Sin City” proves how cinema can even enhance other forms of pop culture.”

I wrote that for my list of the past decade’s 25 best films. “Sin City” changed the way filmmakers conceived of how to make a movie. Nearly a decade later, Miller and Rodriguez finally hand us the long awaited and much talked about sequel to that amazing movie; and while I don’t think the style has played itself out, these filmmakers might’ve. As much as the first film felt fresh and uninhibited, “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” feels tired and ready to give up.

Shot once again in the stunning visual style developed by Miller and Rodriguez for the first film, which recreated the images and texture of the comic through highly stylized visuals, the picture also reuses the multi-storyline format of the original with a slight alteration. While the first film told most of the stories separately, this one intercuts them with each other. Starting off with a short pre-credits story starring Mickey Rourke’s forgetful brute Marv, the movie then intercuts the introduction of three other main characters, who have their own stories to tell. Johnny is a gambler with a good line in luck, who wants to take on the corrupt Senator Roark in his backroom card game. Dwight is a man who can’t seem to escape his past with the deadly viper Ava. And Nancy Callahan can’t outrun the ghost of John Hartigan, who sacrificed himself for her safety in the main storyline of the first film.

The film is visually stunning. Once again we are served the unique feel of Miller’s comic book noir universe where people bleed in bold white, sinful black and sometimes scarred scarlet.  Character’s eyes pop out from the dark atmosphere. The only time everything is saturated in color is when something is engulfed in flames. The action rarely slows down for the dialogue, which is sparse and functional, far from poetic. The poetry of Sin City is found in its ballet of action and violence. Ava’s bathing scene has a particular sinister beauty to it.

Where the movie falters is in its writing. Nothing is quite as sharp in this film as in was in the original. The stories aren’t quite as strong. Dwight’s story, the titular “A Dame to Kill For” is the strongest of the bunch, with Eva Green perfectly cast as the venomous Ava. Clive Owen originally played Dwight in the first film, but this story offers an explanation as to why the role was recast with Josh Brolin. “The Long Bad Night”, one of two original stories for the movie, also offered some story satisfaction, and I very much enjoyed Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the charismatic Johnny. “Just Another Saturday Night” is the short introduction story, which I would’ve liked to see expanded from the graphic novel version. Instead it seems the filmmakers have used it as a way to shoehorn Marv rather needlessly into all four of the stories presented here. “Nancy’s Last Dance”, however, is a hot mess that consists of Jessica Alba’s reprisal of her original role, acting as a drunk fool until she gives herself a rather Frankenstein-like make over for the finale. This story leaves the film on a flat note.

While the stories aren’t strong, Sin City is a simple universe that doesn’t complicate issues with fancy plots or poetic dialogue. It’s the dialogue, however that seems to have suffered the most over the nine-year gap between films. There’s no wit and no bite to the words this time around. It’s as if there was either too much time for Miller to refine it, taking away its freshness; or he just pushed the screenplay out to finally get the thing done so filming could finally start. As such, “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” does not live up to its origins. It won’t be changing any cinematic standards, as its predecessor did. 

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