‘Sin City: A Dame to Kill For’ Review: Nothing in This Grey Matters
It’s amazing how much has to happen in Sin City: A Dame to Kill For in order to make every single piece of it seem pointless.
Robert Rodriguez’s entire mission statement for this franchise was to treat Frank Miller’s creations with the utmost respect by involving the comics’ original author in the adaptation process, ostensibly to make sure that movies do right by his work. But the problem may actually be that his work isn’t doing movies any favors. The original Sin City comics were an exercise in stylish nihilism, or possibly just slickened cynicism; all of the violence was pointless and apocalyptic, all the decency was sapped and exploited, and all the evil was despicable but victorious. No victory came without selling one’s soul, and yet beyond making a simple, adolescent point about how the world is inherently corrupt, none of Miller’s comics had very much to say about that state of being, or god forbid anything constructive to add.
The stories in this new motion picture anthology follow that same merry-go-round. There’s a story about how Marv (Mickey Rourke) wandered into a pointlessly violent situation and escalated that violence to answer a question that, in the end, didn’t matter in the slightest. There’s one about a slick gambler named Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) on a mission to beat Sin City’s most powerful man at poker, and the lengths to which Senator Roark (Powers Boothe) will go to prove his superiority afterwards. It also ends in pointless violence, no matter how much of a point the story’s victor seems to think they’re making.
And there’s the story of Nancy Callahan (Jessica Alba), a victim who turns to alcoholism because she can’t bring herself to take vengeance on her enemies. From the shadows, the ghost of her would-be savior Hartigan (Bruce Willis) hopes to spare her from resorting to violence, but in the end… well, more pointless violence. And although the trope-filled, nearly mythological tone to these stories – which may very well take place in Hell itself, for all we know – seems to look down on these events with a weary head, as if to say “for shame,” the film’s pulsing score, CGI action and quasi-pornographic leering at all of this tragedy tells us instead that it’s actually supposed to be cool.
That’s really the problem, isn’t it…? The stories of Sin City tell us one thing and the production values tell us another. The stories are obviously sad but the storytelling is obviously fun, and yet they work at odds with each other instead of striking a meaningful contrast to present a valid point. Unless the point is to say that the audience is just as vile Sin City’s villains and victims for taking pleasure in of all this mayhem, but even then, whose fault is that? The audience or the movie that intentionally seduced them?
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For has a centerpiece, about the eponymous dame to kill for. Ava, played with nearly but not quite camp by Eva Green, presides over the hulking but impotent men of Sin City, manipulating the physically strong but emotionally weak into committing acts of murder for her personal pleasure and financial gain. And although she clearly represents some sort of nightmare vision of femininity, a voluptuous demon who torments valiant men into sacrificing their dignity for lust or love, this movie can seemingly cast no stones. It too lures unsuspecting suitors into dark rooms with the promise of guilty pleasures, only to provide them with shallow sleaze that distracts them just long enough to pick their pockets.
If Sin City: A Dame to Kill For was half as superficial as its crackerjack style and pretty, pretty pictures, it would at least be fun. If it were presented with half of the emotional weight its heroes drone on and on about ad nauseum, it might even have meaning. Instead, it’s black and white and red all over: an exercise in artistic simplemindedness coated in shiny, sharp and distracting objects. Only by poking you can it make you feel.