Foregrounded in the decrepit decor of Basin City basks bludgeoned beauty, thirstful revenge and unjust corruption. The gritty city streets can uncage even the humblest of inhabitants, though who’ll allow themselves to lose control? Which of them will truly let the monster out?
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For welcomes the cinematic return to Basin City nine years following the original graphic novel translation in 2005. Novel creator Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez both return to co-direct this prequel/sequel to the acclaimed neo-noir film, which astounded audiences with its unparalleled aesthetic loyalty to the source material and grim take on the comic book movie.
The majority of the cast is also back, with some new characters and recasts, in the four intertwining tales of “A Dame to Kill For” and “Just Another Saturday Night”, along with “The Long Bad Night” and “Nancy’s Last Dance”, the latter two being written exclusively for the film by Miller.
A Dame to Kill For is a spectacular continuation of the franchise. While expectedly absent of the pioneering impact of the first film, this sequel delivers almost all of the successes of the original. The proprietor of pulp plots, Frank Miller’s engaging stories, gripping artwork and alluring dialogue combine to form a fantastic film that does not rely on the push of its predecessor, but in fact drives itself forward full throttle into an abyss of exploitation attraction.
Nor does the film rely solely on stylistic sensationalism for success. Yes, the film is a visual masterpiece, but it is also audibly appealing, with poetically-crafted dialogue and narration serving as a colourful complement to the film’s black and white chic.
Dwight McCarthy (Josh Brolin, replacing Clive Owen in a prequel to “The Big Fat Kill” in Sin City) has the most memorable lines. Describing pain as poetry from the atomic blast between his legs to the twisted corkscrew to his stomach, he paints a mesmerising metaphorical mosaic that is as pleasurable to listen to as his experiences are painful.
Though Brolin gets best, everyone’s internal and external voices are delightfully insightful into their respective characters, from Jessica Alba’s spiralling self-destructiveness as Nancy Callahan, to newcomer Johnny’s (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) suave monologues and conversational replies such as “Honey, this’ll take me to the moon.”
Johnny is the one character who never loses control, and the only monster he lets out to play is one of pure sophistication. Joseph Gordon-Levitt gives the most memorable overall performance as the most memorable character, an arrogant but lucky gambler in the two-part prequel “The Long Bad Night”. His poker playing scenes opposite corrupt politician and superb antagonist Senator Roark (Powers Boothe) are consistently suspenseful and unpredictable, with the casting calling for much admiration and enjoyment.
Later in Roark’s stomach-turning timeline that is his sinful existence, Nancy plots her revenge on the Senator for forcing Hartigan (Bruce Willis) to brandish a bullet to the brain at the end of the first film. Despite being the most anticipated arc for the sequel, at least for me, “Nancy’s Last Dance” is the most disappointing of the film’s four yarns. While both actors do a marvellous job, Alba and Willis are underused in their roles, being overshadowed by the central spotlight shining on the “A Dame to Kill For” story.
The titular tale, “A Dame to Kill For”, dominates the film’s entire middle act. Had it been intercut with the more interesting “Nancy’s Last Dance”, the perfect pacing and more balanced storytelling that made the first Sin City such a flawless film would have been enabled.
The ending also feels greatly rushed, eliminating the emotional weight Nancy’s tormented soul feels, but which we don’t get a chance to. Had the 102 minute movie been longer, the build-up to “Nancy’s Last Dance” would have had a greater payoff, though as it is, the sequel leaves you thinking “Okay, I guess that’s how it ends” as the impatient credits readily bleed up the screen.
Even so, A Dame to Kill For is still a killer thriller of engrossing entertainment throughout. Goddess Ava Lord (Eva Green) is the deceptively domineering dame in the film’s middle core. A surprisingly large role compared with the other cast members, Green flaunts her fictitious femme fatale in the faces of the feeble, successfully manipulating men, with multiple dimensions to her character as she hones in on dilapidating desires. Even though her story may see the film’s pace slow down after a rapid fire opening, it is still a compelling watch, mostly because of Green and Brolin.
While not as outstanding as the first Sin City, A Dame to Kill For has that applaudable innovation in aesthetic artistry that makes it so damn beautiful to look at. Noirish nods, delightful dialogue and narration, and a compelling cast, are equally welcoming returns to the City of Sin. The sequel does its job by continuing down the exaggerated streets of exploitation, graphic imagery and dark desires, although it’s unfortunately just some of the pacing and balancing of the four tales that makes it an imperfect film overall.
Bathing in a background of brooding barbarism, Sin City is the kind of place you leave watching but never looking back, though if Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez invite us to return, it’d be difficult to decline the visit.