'Sin City: A Dame to Kill For' Review: Pulp F*cktion
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Sin City: A Dame to Kill For Review: Pulp F*cktion

By Agent Bedhead | Film Reviews | August 22, 2014 | Comments ()


Let’s get something out of the way upfront. I was unapologetically blown away by 2005’s Sin City. It was visually arresting and innovative, not to mention much more faithful to its source material than many other comic book movies. Many people didn’t relish the first movie’s hyper-violent ways. In terms of innovation, Sin City was a breath of stylized fresh air. Even the rain in Basin City was gloriously brutal and beautiful at the same time. The technological novelty wore off sometime in the last nine years, but co-directors Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller do their best to resurrect the same monochrome magic. They succeed on some counts and fail in others. I’ll also pretend that Miller didn’t shit the bed while directing ruining Will Eisner’s The Spirit six years ago. Nope, The Spirit never happened.

Viewers would do well to re-watch the first Sin City to avoid disorientation. Why? The chronology of the sequel is pretty whack. This movie isn’t just about A Dame to Kill For as it exists in graphic novel form. True, Dame is the most arresting chunk of the movie. The most important thing to know is that this second film is half-prequel and semi-sequel. Confusion may abound. Dame takes place before The Big Fat Kill part of the first flick. The protagonist of both stories — a PI named Dwight — ends up needing a new face, so it’s perfectly okay that Clive Owen has been replaced by Josh Brolin. Although, I do miss Clive Owen sticking someone’s head (that of Benicio Del Toro) in a toilet and making faces like this.


Like the first film, A Dame to Kill For is an anthology of various stories from throughout the Miller comic series. Parts of this second movie stick to a more conventional timeline and take place after the events of the first movie. Take for instance Jessica Alba’s character — the non-stripping stripper named Nancy — who inhabits the weakest portion of this film. Rodriguez has some inexplicable need to include Alba in all of his movies. So he popped in a little story about how Nancy goes crazy with grief for losing John Hartigan (played by Bruce Willis, now in ghost form), who died in the That Yellow Bastard portion of the first film. Nancy wants “revenge” for her savior’s death (a motive that is sketchy if you know how Hartigan died). Nancy gets what she wants, but Alba is wholly unconvincing in her attempt to be gritty. She can’t even swig properly from a bottle of booze.

Then there’s the tale of gambler Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a card shark who makes trouble his business with corrupt Senator Roarke (Powers Boothe). JGL wears his suit well, and I’m not just talking about his clothing. Johnny is different from the other boys, and JGL’s presence is strongly welcomed in this male cast of largely indistinguishable thugs.

Rightfully, this movie belongs to Eva Green, who plays the titular dame, Ava Lord. Green inhabits the sociopathic Ava with relish, which is no surprise. She’s also mostly naked (or damn close to it) for most of the film, but her appeal would burn through any clothing anyway. She’s a hardened femme fatale, a siren for the ages. Her green eyes and red lips bewitch, and she uses her sexuality to force men to do her bidding. Forget the sex though (if you can). Power should be the true seduction in A Dame to Kill For. That was the message put forth by the comics, and it worked in the first movie. In this sequel, the meaning is there if you really dig for it. But as viewers, we head into a movie like Sin City to escape our the need to make sense out of our real-life rotten cities. So I guess the film doesn’t succeed in delivering the power theme. Sex is the main event of the film, which is a shame. Further, Dwight’s inner monologue as gets busy with Ava really isn’t necessary. The dialogue worked in the comic. On the big screen, it comes off like some 50 Shades version of the inner male goddess. All of this contributes to an atmosphere too jokey to qualify as true noir.

This sequel is still a good time, but it doesn’t wholly live up to the 9-year wait. Many criticized the first Sin City for being all style and little substance, but I believe a tentative balance was achieved. In the sequel? Rodriguez and Miller have attempted to go bigger and better, and they’ve lost sight of creating vaguely sympathetic characters and exploring hidden themes instead of emphasizing the importance of f*cking. These two bros are just having fun, man.

At least the cast is fantastic. There’s so much talent here. I haven’t even mentioned Marv (Mickey Rourke), who pops up in multiple stories. He is still ridiculous, imposing, and indispensable in this world. Gail (Rosario Dawson) is still as fierce as they come in Old Town. Deadly little Miho (Jamie Chung replaces Devon Aoki) remains as deadly as ever. Chris Meloni makes a brief appearance as one of Ava’s many admirers. His street-smart attitude plays well in this world. Lady Gaga has one scene, but pay no attention. She’s simply a latter-day example of Rodriguez’s stunt queening.

Ultimately, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For will appeal to those who stan for the first movie all these years later. The nostalgia is heady. Even if the visuals aren’t as starkly surprising as they were nine years ago, the second film looks just as good. The characters and their stories get shafted, but the actors’ performances make up for any losses. I doubt Rodriguez and Miller will be able to mine the comic for any further anthology-type movies, so this is probably the end. Which is just as well. Sin City is a kick-ass place to revisit, but you’d go crazy if you lived there.

Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She can be found at Celebitchy.

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  • Bananaranma

    Just disappointing. I unabashedly loved 'Sin City'. It threw back a shot of rotgut, cocked a lit Marlboro in the corner of it's mouth and slapped the cynic right off my shoulder.

    'A Dame to Kill For'...Meh. And it is a stunning reversal. So many poor decisions or ham-handed elements. *ahem*
    - About 95% of the movie is narrated. So much tell and show and tell again.
    "He was dangerous as a frothing pit bull."
    *Dude kills some red shirt*
    "I'd have to be careful around someone so dangerous."

    Frank Miller's visual storytelling is strong enough, you could lose all the narration and not miss a beat.

    - Speaking of visuals...the original was seamlessly stylized. There was a pervading sense that the locale Sin City was different. You weren't in Kansas anymore.

    The sequel kept jumping back and forth between overtly splashy comic pages and straight black and white. It was jarring and the b/w sequences made the clunky comic book noir sound just goofy and out of place.

    - Marv overkill: The Marv prosthetics look very odd, he is in every storyline and does the exact same thing in each story. *I have a condition* *Need my medicine* *Charges house/thugs* *Kills everyone while getting shot about 70 times* *Forgets why he was there*.

    - Was Eva Green the highest profile actress they could get who would do 2 hours of full frontal nudity? Not really complaining but at some point, I began pining for the tact and restraint of 'Game of Thrones'.

    - The original cleverly cast actors FOR their stereotype. It was like when Coppola cast Sterling Hayden as Captain McCluskey. Don't have time for 15 minutes of back story? Need the good girl with a body built for sin? Boom, Jessica Alba. A morally ambiguous cop? Boom, Benecio Del Toro.

    Here, Miller seems to have decided that all woman are Madonna/Whores (I'd like to think casting Lady Gaga, Madonna's heir, was a clever commentary but probably not) and all men Angels/Monsters. There are more than four stereotypes even in film noir.

    The movie is semi-sorta-kinda redeemed by some strong acting and gorgeous visuals. But not so much you'd want to sit through it again.

  • solafidex

    "I do miss Clive Owen..." - 'nuff said!

  • There's really no need for Clive abstinence...

    It's absolutely well worth your time, even if it were only to get your Clive fix.

  • Hmpf, I meant to add a pic to my last comment. How does one do this in Disqus? There's an image icon that suggests I can upload a photo, but it's not working :-(.
    Anyhow, I meant to add this photo: http://collider.com/wp-content....

  • WTF? Oops!
    Although I reckon multiple Clives are better than none!

  • Count me amongst those who left the first Sin City feeling all "meh" about it. I recall the Miller comics and knowing that everyone had gone ga-ga over them. But the movie felt cold. Detached. Like it wanted you to bathe in its sex and smoke and filth. But always held things at arm's length. I don't know. Between the narrations and the stock characters, it always felt like people playing at the roles and not inhabiting them/being them.

    So thanks, but I'll wait to catch this on Spike in about a year's time.

  • e jerry powell
    ...than many other comic book movies.

    "Graphic novel." Don't make Frank Miller start talking shit about poor people again...

  • Sean

    Hell, just prevent him from things like HOLY TERROR. And directing the Spirt. And speaking in public. Shit, anyone have a time machine? I want the Frank Miller from the 80s back.

  • Uriah_Creep

    She’s a hardened femme fatale

    She's not the only one who gets hardened, if you get my drift. Nudge nudge, wink wink.

  • The Replicant Brooke


  • Repo

    Between this, 300: Rise Of an Empire and Penny Dreadful, I can't tell if Eva Green is being typecast as fierce, naked, and crazy or she just REALLY likes playing it that way on screen. She must be the most comfortable person ever on set.

  • Ryan Ambrose

    On Penny Dreadful she plays a prurient and decorous Victorian woman, as par for the epoch. Yet, when she finally meets Dorian Grey for the first time, who's essentially lustfulness personified, she unintendedly makes him look like a stray puppy looking for its owner. She's got that lioness gaze, that dominant look that reduces men around her to a bunch of awestruck baboons (myself included), even when that wasn't the intended effect in this particular case. No wonder James Bond fell for her.

    So yeah, I think Eva Green is quite possibly the epitome of sexiness, and I'm not even talking about all the nudity she's clearly comfortable with.

  • luckypete

    I equate her with Kate Winslet, in that both seem to be very comfortable in their nudity and sexuality.

  • e jerry powell

    And she makes Josh Hartnett seem...
    ...like Josh Hartnett, whatever that is.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    I think she likes it. See also Bertolucci's Dreamers.

  • Sean

    I have seen it. Many, many, many times.

  • e jerry powell

    I kinda liked Dreamers, what I could make sense of, anyway.

  • Sean

    I just walked in the door from seeing it. Your review is accurate. Alba is terrible. She always has been.Green is hypnotic. She always has been . The Dame to Kill For story is great fun. The Alba stuff is dreadful. The JGL story is somewhere in between.

    IT was nice to see Christopher Lloyd. Wish he was in more things.

    I did have some issues with things other than Alba(I can't stress again how awful she is). Rosario Dawson's new rack makes me sad, as it did in Trance last year.

    Juno Temple deserved more screen time. Any actress could have played that part. She is an interesting actress.

    The theater was almost completely empty for the 4:10pm show. The 3pm 3d version was also mostly empty. So I am thinking there won't be a Sin City: Family Values movie.

  • e jerry powell
    So I am thinking there won't be a Sin City: Family Values movie.

    I gather you're not in mourning.

  • Sean

    I don't know. Really. I love the looks of the Sin City movies. And this one is half of a really good movie. It is also half awful. Family Values is as great story. They could do some of the other Sin City short stories as well. But the problem is Frank Miller. He is clearly insane. I wonder if there is some way to keep him away.

  • Zen

    I still rather enjoy this little comic about Frank Miller.


  • Sean

    You could change it to "whores...whores...whores...MUSLIMS....muslims...muslims...wait...MUSLIM WHORES.."
    God, I miss the sane Frank Miller who made great comics.

  • Tenacious_EJ

    Card sharp.

    Now that I got that out of the way, it sounds like the film is pretty uneven, with strong women portrayed in little attire and with a story (stories) that rarely makes sense. In other words, a comic book. I loved the first one, and I'm sure this, being more of the same, will be right up my alley.

  • And a tip of the fedora to you, sir.

  • Danny

    Card shark is also a valid expression. Sharp and shark both work there. In professional circles you'll often hear about 'sharks and fish' - the fish being the poor players who are there keeping the game profitable for the sharks.

  • Ryan Ambrose

    Okay, let me see if I got this straight then.

    This film, written by Frank Miller, features tough guys with a heart of gold in trench coats, mistakes female empowerment for ladies wearing skimpy outfits, all the female characters are whores, the nice stripper (whom I assume never actually strips) is chastely portrayed and ends up romantically involved with one of the main protagonists, the evil femme fatale du jour is always baring it all, and the gruff voice-over constantly alludes to ultra hetero men wanting to purge the filth and decadence and cleaning up the streets from scum and degenerates. Also, lots of cheap cynicism.

    Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but seriously, is the target audience for this trainwreck supposed to be this type of person?


  • The only reason the nice stripper doesn't strip is Alba's contract. If Miller had his say, all women in his work would be...and say it with me now...



  • e jerry powell

    Only slightly tangential: why do straight men heterosexual douchenozzles hate women so much?

  • SottoVoce

    Because their desire for women makes them feel weak and they hate anyone or thing that causes them to feel that way? But that's just a guess.

  • e jerry powell

    One of many, I'm sure.

    Here's how I clarify the difference for myself. A heterosexual douchenozzle likes to fuck women, as distinct from actually liking them (which he mostly doesn't). I like women, but I'm largely indifferent as far as wanting to fuck any. Who's worse?

  • SottoVoce

    The douchenozzle, of course.

  • Enrique del Castillo

    I think the review at Uproxx nailed it: Sin City 2 is a movie for guys who wear fedoras

  • nailpolishcolor

    "Rodriguez has some inexplicable need to include Alba in all of his movies"

    THIS. Why any director uses her is beyond me, she's so milquetoast and hasn't a a hit since........hmm

  • phase10

    Dark Angel?

  • Stephen Nein

    She's Albatoast, dammit.

  • luthien26

    Should we now classify his genre of films as... Albacore? *cough*

  • e jerry powell

    Sashimi-grade Albacore.

  • Ali2044

    Sashimi-grade implies quality though...

  • e jerry powell

    That is true. I will be having some truly good tuna tomorrow night.

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