Like the first entry in the series, Sin City: A Dame To Kill For exists as an exercise in neo-noir tedium; a vicious, sterile pastiche that overcompensates for its humdrum plot and schoolboy dialogue with an ecstasy of violence and sex which misunderstands both vices fundamentally. It is a mistake of a film, predicated on the flimsy premise that a high-fidelity comic book aesthetic has any place on the big screen. It fails tragically, and proves once and for all that reactionary neoconservative Frank Miller has little to contribute to the world of cinema. I’ll reserve judgement on you, Robert Rodriguez – but you’re on thin ice, pal.
I’m intrigued by the artifice of Sin City. It’s noir rendered as its purest abstraction, a pointillist tribute that ignores the subtleties which make the genre so compelling. The characters are thinly drawn cutouts: gruff musclemen and savagely objectified sex-doll women, rendered on a pan-American ‘dark city’ backdrop which nails the aesthetic but has nothing to show for it. Someone once argued with me that I’m missing the point of Sin City, which exists as semi-satirical kitsch, but I don’t buy that bullshit for a second. This is noir as described artlessly to a teenage boy living under late capitalism, right at that nebulous phase of hormonal development where the only things he cares about are tits and gun violence. Frank Miller is no Dashiell Hammett.
The film unfolds much like the first one: a series of vaguely interconnected vignettes taking place in the seedy megalopolis of Basin City. The titular story, occupying about two-thirds of the film’s runtime, concerns private detective Dwight McCarthy (Josh Brolin) as he becomes embroiled in a sordid relationship with a previous love: femme fatale Ava Lord (Eva Green). Green, who does very well embodying the paralyzing fears socially awkward men have about attractive women, is one of the lone standouts in a cast of squandered talent, who are forced – at gunpoint, one assumes – to recite Miller’s bargain basement dialogue. Other stories, in which Mickey Rourke plays the same thuggish golem as he did in the first film, Joseph Gordon-Levitt has a half-enjoyable turn as a cardshark and Jessica Alba continues her timeworn hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold narrative, are not quite as clearly drawn.
Directors Rodriguez and Miller have forged long careers out of adolescent male fantasy, and A Dame To Kill For doesn’t change course. Its treatment of women should come as no particular surprise; to expect anything but sex objects touting military-grade weaponry would be setting yourself up for bitter disappointment. In fact, Jessica Alba – who, when she is allowed to act, does so quite capably – spends ninety percent of her screen time gyrating wordlessly for the camera. Again, it’s a fundamental misunderstanding of noir by men who choose to see only certain parts of it, allowing women only sex and sexy violence as a means of propelling the plot.
On the topic of plot and execution: it’s boring as all hell. The film attempts to emulate the languid pace of classic noir, but lacks the narrative complexity or compelling dialogue of its forebears. Even the violence, normally Rodriguez’s strong point, falls flat. the choreography, which centers on increasingly elaborate decapitations, is shot and animated without much flair. I don’t think my heart rate exceeded funeral homily pace at any time in the film. As an action flick, it is confusing in its singular boringness.
I don’t recommend Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. Frank Miller, who has long outlived his usefulness in the comic book sphere and seems to exist only as a right-wing caricature, seems incapable of producing anything beyond immoral trash, and Rodriguez’s grindhouse throwback is starting to feel tired. Save your bucks – buy a Raymond Chandler anthology and read it in a diner over a plate of cold scrambled eggs and black coffee. Just don’t spend it on Sin City.
May the celluloid be burnt and its ashes seeded with salt.
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