Director: Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller
Cast: Josh Brolin, Eva Green, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Bruce Willis, Dennis Haysburt
Running Time: 120 mins
9 seemingly lengthened years since the stylised noir classic that is the first Sin City. Frank Miller has always had a gritty feel to his work and his selection of graphic novels by the same name seem to serve as a gallery for all his most depraved characters and bleak scenarios. The black and white shadows barely serving to hide the worst of what he could throw at his poor souls surviving in Basin City, where innocence dies quickly and darkness takes it’s place even quicker.
More than just a festival of grim though Frank Miller did a fantastic job of making what Tarantino referred to as it’s own ‘mythos’, these characters are worn and weathered and you feel their every wound and wrinkle. Places, systems and agreements are skilfully referenced to in a way that you don’t feel bored or patronised but you almost believe you should have known it already. Obviously police don’t go into Old Town and of course I should have been aware Marv is renown in the projects where he grew up. The dialogue was taken word for word from the novel and you can see why it would be arrogant and foolish to try and replace any sentence within the pages. Every line simmers with a relentless, pulpish glee that some actors would feel ridiculous uttering while others would relish every syllable. Imagine ‘Payback’ and ‘Dick Tracy’ having a freakish but oddly adorable baby.
‘Sin City 2: A Dame To Kill For‘ hopes to continue this saga of woe and has been highly anticipated ever since people left their seats from the first time. To set the scene of stories is to encounter the first problem for this feature. Chronological order will cry itself to sleep in a tortured fit as the film dances erratically around the timeline of events from this and the last movie. Some hints are given such as wounds people have or are yet to receive (helpful in a sick way), references people make or most confusingly from characters that appear but are in fact ghosts so are in the scene but not actually…..thanks guys, wouldn’t want it too easy. The main strands of story are lovingly ripped from the comic of the volume of the same title are Dwight before his Clive-Owenoscopy in the previous film who becomes embroiled in the scandalous and frankly crude life of his ex lover Ava Lord played deliciously by Eva Green. Take bets on how long she remains confined by those pesky clothes….no really, we did.
The rest of the scenes are taken from short stories or are new stories entirely written by Frank Miller. This is where the film runs it’s highest risk but to great potential promise as it creates other original stories and even a new character. As much as I love the loyalty to the script, this was their chance to add and surprise hardcore fans. Marv (Mickey Rourke) crops up as the strangely loveable wild card of chaos, there mainly to punch the storyline in the face until it bleeds more violence for him to enjoy. Nancy (Jessica Alba) from the first film is shown in a padded out storyline, suffering after Hartigan’s (Bruce Willis) sacrifice. This is done well I feel as not only does she become twisted in order to reach her goal of killing Senator Roark (Powers Boothe) but she blames her tarnished memory of Hartigan. This not only develops her character more convincingly but cements the price paid by Hartigan in the previous film. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is perfectly cast as the new creation of Johnny who is a new in town, quick witted and quick handed card shark who gets in over his head when he takes on the infamous Senator. His character sounds cliche but his love of cards does give me plenty of puns to work with so i am appeased as this suits me. See? “Suits me”. Suits. Cards. That pun’s for free.
This film has bombed at the cinema so first things first this in my sort of humble opinion is a good movie, it promised to be a great film though and is therefore shockingly average. Once attached to a franchise it is hard not to overreact. The stories are edgy and depressing, the action is brutal and the artwork is there. The beautiful black and white style coupled with expressive art house shots as well as over the top pulp action is still there. Some scenes are so expressive and artistic in there noir contrast of two shades that it could be mistaken for an over aggressive perfume advert. Only thing is that after 9 years this style has been emulated, copied, homaged and shamelessly murdered in ways that would make even Marv squirm like a banker in court. Miller tried his hand at the highly criticised and in my opinion underrated venture ‘The Spirit‘ as well as versions of the animation style appearing in other peoples movies, such as ‘Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow’ or the animation ‘Renaissance’ starring Daniel Craig.
The music still sends chills as the thudding bass theme rings familiar and various brass instruments scream out as if the noir genre itself is screaming to be remembered. All of these just seem like nostalgia though now, as oppose to the shock and awe it rippled through the audience 9 years ago. The acting is largely fine, men growl their threats and torments while the women purr through their lines and spit their defiant jibes. The only major flaw is with Josh Brolin feeling out of place. The recasting is deliberate and planned but he plays Dwight nothing like Clive Owen’s earlier and superior effort. The Dwight we know was an intense and ruthless but calculating and somehow suave rogue. Brolin’s attempt is just bland and hard to root for. I know he’s a earlier version and could evolve but there is no similarity involved. An example of this technique done well is in Looper where the main character is played by two different actors from this very Sin City film, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis. Now forget the stupid make up and eyebrows (those eyebrows that haunt my every waking moment..) and take note of Joseph Gordon Levitt giving a master class of Bruce Willis-ising (it’s a word, look it up…) His squinted glare, slow speech, head tilting and gruff delivery scream Willis before he even appears.
Supporting cast are strong and capable, Ray Liotta, Jeremy Piven and Juno Temple do a bit with very little, Dennis Haysburt is spot on in replacing the late, great Micheal Clarke Duncan as the twisted titan Manute. Jessica Alba does a tidy job as tormented Nancy especially in a harrowing scene as she is haunted by the spectre of the Senator Roark. Is immenesly satisfying as armoured tormenting and controlling all around him as an unbeatable, self-made god among insects. The major coup is Eva Green as the femme fetale yet again, she enjoys this role far too much and you with her, as Ava Lord who corrupts those around her merely because it’s her whim and she can. Eva Green’s performance is everything the franchise should be, brutal, stylish, seductive and enjoyable.
The dialogue is arguably the greatest strength of the first Sin City with iconic drawling speeches more bleak and desperate than a marathon viewing of Celebrity Big Brother. Or with there piercing threats or skillfully worded insults that sound as smooth as silk but with an impact as blunt as Marv’s chin who does resemble and evil, aged Buzz Lightyear or an actually entertaining James Milner. The script in the second film is fine but far less memorable, i can recite 90 per cent of the first film from years ago yet only recall a couple of lines from the sequel.
The pacing is pretty terrible. The first film charged through, tearing up the story as you clung on for dear life and enjoyed the ride with no question to the bizarre methods or superhuman feats of violence. This time around is slower which isn’t always bad of course but in it contradicts the nature of the world we have been introduced to, the story isn’t complicated enough to warrant the slower pace and it gives you time to realise how unrealistic the world of the film really is. Dwight’s story gets boring and Nancy’s is shameless fun as is Marv’s introductory rendition of his short story ‘A Saturday Night To Forget’. Johnny’s (Joseph Gordon Levitt) story is the biggest crime for me, it starts brilliantly as a tense tale of him being cruelly twisted and contorted into the perfect tool of revenge. As the stakes are raised (pun 1) he struggles with the hand he is dealt (pun 2) and as the chips are down (pun 3) he can only gamble (pun 4) with his life. You’re welcome. I was excited for the conclusion of his thread for it to then sadly fizzle out before my eyes into a whisper of a wasted life. Yeah I see what they were going for as Johnny actually flat out says it, I just wish it had been done well. Another example of wastefulness is Johnny’s scene of receiving “40 bucks” worth of medical care from back alley surgeon Kroenig played by Christopher Lloyd was a fantastic opportunity and ends up mostly pointless. What could have been a great comedy or grim development scene ends up just showing you how he recovers. I doubt many of us saw this film for budget medical advice.
In the ends the failings of this film actually portray the situation of the characters well, as you see them struggle against the odds of an average movie to make it their big score. All in all this is a welcome yet underwhelming return to a rich and once unique land of legends and crooks. They have spoken already of a third movie but as Senator Roark proved, money talks. And the poor financial return of this sequel is speaking loud and clear.
The verdict: It has all the ingredients which are enjoyable individually, but it’s like someone didn’t read the recipe. Decent but unfulfilling in a fable where our out-of-luck characters deserve a better break than this.