Published on August 22nd, 2014 | by gareth0
Sin City: A Dame To Kill For
Review by Ian M. Woodington
It’s been almost 10 years since Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez raised the bar to a ridiculously high
standard for comic book movies with their adaptation of Sin City. So the question is, was it worth the
wait? Did they raise the bar again?
The answer for me is both yes and no, and even as I’m writing this, I am conflicted about my return
to the world of Sin City. The first one is on a very short list of films I absolutely had to go back and see
again. It seemed at the time a revolutionary experience. Knowing that it was shot almost entirely on
green screen and with some actors sharing scenes but not being filmed together, it was a leap forward
in digital filmmaking. And being a sucker for film-noir, and the caricatures that inhabit that particular
genre, I was instantly lured into this high-contrast, beautifully framed world of damsels in distress, gritty
anti-heroes and antagonists that could make your skin crawl. If it wasn’t for Watchmen just a few years
later, I would still consider Sin City the best comic book movie ever made. (Calm down, fanboys, we’ll
discuss why your hatred of Watchmen is wrong another time.)
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For gets off to an excellent start and reminds us straight away of why we love
Marv. In “Just Another Saturday Night”, Marv awakes to the aftermath of a car crash and tries to piece
together what brought him to that moment. It’s a prologue that completely tops the opening of the
original, expertly balancing dark humor with the highly stylized violence that we expect not only of a Sin
City film, but of Robert Rodriguez’s over-the-top filmmaking style.
It’s after the opening titles that this second outing begins to show its structural weaknesses. In the first
Sin City, the “That Yellow Bastard” story served as bookends to “The Hard Goodbye” and “The Big Fat
Kill”. Here we are given the set-up for two vignettes (“The Long Bad Night” and “Nancy’s Last Dance”)
and then the title story, “A Dame to Kill For”, which plays through in its entirety before returning to
the conclusions of the other two. What worked for the first film doesn’t really work in this instance as
Rodriguez, who acts as his own editor, offers multiple bookends and stacks the climaxes to each of the
stories one after the other, leaving the film as a whole with uneven pacing.
For me, the end of “The Long Bad Night” would have been the perfectly bleak, yet satisfying, ending.
As interesting an idea as it was to see a dark turn in Nancy’s life after Hartigan’s efforts to protect her,
“Nancy’s Last Dance” would have been better served in comic book form and feels much more like
an excuse just to get Jessica Alba and Bruce Willis back into the fold. Between Willis being there to do
nothing more than to provide a deus ex machina and a third sequence of an assault being lead against
the mansion of a corrupt, evil character (two already being featured in “A Dame to Kill For”), “Nancy’s
Last Dance” grinds the pace of the film to a halt and reveals itself to be an unnecessary inclusion.
But there is also much of Sin City: A Dame to Kill For to enjoy that isn’t “Nancy’s Last Dance”. This
comes mostly in the form of additions to an already great cast, including Eva Green, Josh Brolin, Dennis
Haysbert and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. All inspired casting decisions and all of them inhabit their characters
with a seemingly effortlessness. In particular, I have to wonder how it is that Gordon-Levitt can just
walk onto any set and take complete command of every scene he’s in. I could have very happily sat
through a whole film comprised of just his attempts to beat Senator Roark (played by the always
intimidating Powers Boothe) at his own game. The second half of “The Long Bad Night” also features
what has to be the cameo of the year in the form of Christopher Lloyd as a drug-addled doctor. The
single scene he shares with Gordon-Levitt is worth the price of admission alone.
As for the title story itself, “A Dame to Kill For” is noir storytelling at its best; hard-boiled, clunky
dialogue and all. Josh Brolin is a more than capable replacement for Clive Owen, as he plays the “pre-
surgery” version of Dwight and Eva Green, as she almost always does, has you hanging on every syllable
as Ava Lord, the dame who isn’t all she claims to be. The real surprise though comes in the casting of
Dennis Haysbert as Ava’s fear-inspiring chauffeur, Manute. Known to most as the spokesman for Allstate
Insurance, he has a fine line to walk filling the shoes of Michael Clark Duncan, who sadly passed in 2012.
While paying homage to the subtleties of Duncan’s performance, down to even his speech rhythms,
he fills the screen with his own inimitable presence and makes Manute truly a frightening force to be
reckoned with. His head-to-head bout against Mickey Rourke’s Marv is one of the best fist-fights I’ve
seen on screen in a very long time.
Circling back to my original question, I say both yes and no because in wanting a second helping of what
the first film gave, that’s exactly what I got with the sequel. But I do have a certain expectation of a film
to strive to be more than just the sum of its parts, and not to merely settle on being just 3⁄4 of a good
movie. Maybe my standards are too high, my expectations set a little too far out for what a comic book
movie should live up to. That, or maybe Rodriguez should find another editor that can provide a second,
well-needed perspective. Either way, I love this world that Frank Miller has given us and that these
characters, for a second time, live and breathe behind great actors. I’m sure that in just a few days, I’ll
find myself anxiously awaiting news of a third installment.