Thursday, August 21, 2014
Less dense than its already thin predecessor, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For feels like a vast improvement nonetheless. Almost a decade ago, Sin City seemed almost revolutionary in the way it capitalized on then innovative digital technology that allowed directors Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller to shoot their movie on virtual, green-screen sets. Based on Miller's own graphic novel series, the film carried a certain irony. It was a black-and-white film noir homage with a stripped down, DIY sensibility despite hosting a cast of hip actors and utilizing cutting edge filmmaking techniques.
The most successful of the new sequel's stories is the one that gives the movie its subtitle. "A Dame to Kill For" features the movie's most commanding performance, that of Sin City newcomer Eva Green as Ava Lord. Wealthy, manipulative and irresistible, the character is a perfect marriage of actor and role. Ava is reminiscent of Double Indemnity's Phyllis, a woman so carnal that Barbara Stanwyck's slinky stride could make you forget she wasn't naked. Green has the added advantage of contemporary cinematic mores which allow her to spend most of the film in the nude. But even for natural exhibitionists like actors, it is rare to find one so inarguably in control while so exposed. Within the last 50 years I can only think of one other, Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct. in the midst of torrid sexual power plays with both her lover Dwight (Josh Brolin taking over for Clive Owen) and crooked cop Mort (Christopher Meloni)—and even when directing her towering chauffeur Manute (Dennis Haysbert replacing the late Michael Clarke Duncan)—the movie's place of authority always lies with Ava, not an easy task for Green opposite such formidable actors and in such a stylized setting.
There is still an uneven quality to A Dame to Kill For. A thread featuring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a card sharp with daddy issues feels weak. Maybe it's because it's derived from one of Miller's unpublished stories. Also, the adolescent-looking Gordon-Levitt will remind no one of John Garfield, Robert Mitchum, or any other noir icon. Jessica Alba still lacks the gravitas to get us to believe her stripper, Nancy Callahan, has the "balls" to transform herself into some sort of avenging angel. But A Dame to Kill For is largely successful because Rodriguez gives viewers more of what made the first film's best sequences so successful: more Rourke as Marv; more fetishistic, assertive femme fatales; and actors capable of delivering the florid dialogue successfully. To a one, there is not a single actor in this cast that flubs the kind of tough patter often associated with the bleak post-war genre.
Marv has a considerable amount of screen time in A Dame to Kill For fulfilling the role of comic relief and hired muscle as he helps both Dwight and Nancy in their respective quests for revenge. And the movie confidently begins in media res with a story starring the ugly mug, rarely taking the time to recap how A Dame to Kill For fits in with the previous Sin City. A good number of returning characters make notable cameos, principally the girls of Basin City's red-light district, Old Town: Gail (Rosario Dawson); twins Goldie and Wendy (both Jamie King); and the deadly Miho (now played by Jamie Chung). It's the Old Town sequences, populated by gun-strapped and sword-wielding prostitutes attired in fetishistic latex and leather, that provide the most fodder for the Sin City series' detractors. Theirs is not entirely a reductive assessment. Ultimately, the picture is sexist, maybe even misogynistic, but A Dame to Kill For is also a very expertly realized paean to a gritty kind of bygone glamour film blessed with a watershed performance by the talented Eva Green. There's not much more this writer could ask for.