Sin City: A Dame To Kill For first published by Film4
Descriptive synopsis: Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller return us to their stylised multi-story city of hard-boiled antiheroes, corrupt authorities, femmes fatales and whores with hearts of gold.
Review: Since it first appeared on our screens in 2005, not much has changed in Sin City. How could it? Basin City is, after all, a locus of the imagination, built on pure genre, a place familiar from every hard-boiled novel you have ever read or film noir you have ever seen – although it has been most directly inspired by a series of homonymous graphic novels by Frank Miller, who here serves as screenwriter and co-director (with Robert Rodriguez).
In this town, seemingly every man is corrupt or a killer, and every femme is fatale or a whore, and as several episodes are woven around both each other and the three that featured in the first film, you might well become as forgetful of the relative chronology as Marv (Mickey Rourke), the tank-like bruiser whom we first meet flying through the air and struggling to remember how he got in this predicament. He was in the first film too – indeed, met his end in it – as were several other characters, although not all have the same faces or are played by the same actors, and at least one (Bruce Willis’ Hartigan) is now a mere ghost, haunting the troubled psyche of stripper Nancy (Jessica Alba).
There are also some newly introduced characters: Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), the gambler on a roll who is about to be taught by Senator Roark (Powers Boothe) that power trumps luck; and Ava Lord (Eva Green), the apotheosis of cruel seduction whose forward sexuality and frequent nudity the filmmakers are banking (no doubt correctly) will prove as irresistible a siren call to many viewers as to her former lover Dwight (here played by Josh Brolin, in a prequel to the story from the first film where he was played by Clive Owen).
The addition of 3D to the Brechtian spareness of the first film’s backgrounds, to the mannered monochrome occasionally splashed with colour, to the cartoonishness of the violence, and to the archetypal nature of the scenarios and their players, highlights all the more the overt artifice of a world constructed from potboiler literature and B cinema. For this is a multi-dimensional necropolis, full of flat yet larger-than-life folk who collide with each other at oblique angles like the comicbook figures drawn on turning, flickering pages. The only pity is that the film comes rather frontloaded, with its most explosive material at the beginning, and no real sense of a climactic ending to give these episodes shape or meaning. Still, there are probably eight million stories in Sin City, and this has been just four of them.
Verdict: There’s over-the-top sex and violence galore in this artificial world constructed from comic books, ‘tec novels and film noir – but if it starts with a bang, it ends with a bit of a whimper.
© Anton Bitel