With Mickey Rourke, Josh Brolin, Eva Green, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Powers Boothe. Written by Frank Miller. Directed by Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez. Rated R for strong brutal stylized violence throughout, sexual content, nudity, and brief drug use. 102 minutes.
You wouldn’t want every movie to look like “Sin City” (2005), but there’s no question that Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller, the latter of whom originated the graphic novels on which the films are based, have created a unique look. The black-and-white images broken with occasional splashes of color make it appear as if they flew off the page onto the screen. They succeed again with SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR.
That said, it’s important to note up front we’re not talking great literature here. Like Mickey Spillane’s “Mike Hammer” novels, these are down-and-dirty pulp fictions. The characters are lowlifes, the action consists mostly of steamy sex and raw violence, and any resemblance to the real world is purely coincidental. The body count is high and several of the deaths–and injuries–are especially brutal.
As with the first film, the movie consists of several intertwined and overlapping stories. Marv (Mickey Rourke under considerable makeup) is essentially a fighting machine but has a code of honor of sorts. He appears in the prologue primarily to open the film with a bang, but is a supporting player in two of the other stories as well. If you can accept him, the rest of the film will be easy.
The main story (which takes up most of the screen time) involves Dwight (Josh Brolin), a private detective who we first see taking photos of a cheating husband (Ray Liotta). Ava (Eva Green), a woman from his past, has reappeared and even though she’s married she still has her hooks in him. She is accompanied by a mysterious chauffeur/bodyguard (Dennis Haysbert). This is a story of lies and betrayal in the best noir tradition, with Green both sexy and sinister as the femme fatale. As with the recent “300: Rise of an Empire” (also based on a Miller graphic novel), she’s the best thing in the film.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt has a nice turn as Johnny in a story about an incredibly lucky guy who sits down for poker with the ruthless Senator Roark (Powers Boothe). As Johnny notes, he can’t lose, and when he presses his luck with Roark he learns the penalty for messing with a powerful figure used to having his own way. Christopher Lloyd pops up as a sleazy ex-doctor who will repair the damage to Johnny… for a price.
Roark is also the villain of the last story, this one a sequel to the first film, where his son brutalized a stripper named Nancy (Jessica Alba). She got rescued by Hartigan (Bruce Willis), whose spirit now haunts her. She’s trying to get up the nerve to go after Roark herself. It is the weakest of the film’s stories, highlighted mostly by the R-rated cartoonish violence when Nancy and Marv go after Roark.
“Sin City: A Dame To Kill For” is visually stunning enough that it holds your interest through its 102-minute running time. The stories are lurid but the characters are larger-than-life with the actors playing them to the hilt. Actors like Boothe, Brolin, and Haysbert have all done better and more subtle work elsewhere, but given the chance to chew the scenery they do it with flair. It’s not exactly a “check your brain at the door” sort of movie, but it is one that appeals to our more animal instincts.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.