It’s exhausting at 102 minutes, but I can’t help but feel grateful that it exists. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is the graphic comic book series by Frank Miller slavishly adapted for the big screen, and it is drenched in acid-like film noir. Robert Rodriguez, who has co-directed with Miller, has a thing for street lamps, wet streets, sleazy neon signs, vortex architecture and actors’ bug-eyed looks (see Ray Liotta’s one scene of fury). Watch any twenty minutes of this movie, it is mesmerizing to look at.
The secondary pleasure of the movie is the hard boiled dialogue. Josh Brolin’s character Dwight says of Eva Green’s femme fatale: “Ava. You got me good, babe. You’ve damned my soul to hell.” The great tradition in film noir writing began in the 1940’s, with such films as “Double Indemnity” (1944), “Detour” (1945), “Out of the Past” (1947) and “The Lady from Shanghai” (1948). “A Dame to Kill For” and those films have one thing in common: Men push themselves to the edge of mortality after they fall for a femme fatale.
“That right there is a dame to kill for,” said by Marv (Mickey Rourke) is the most obvious line in the movie, but it certainly is merited. Only one babe in “A Dame to Kill For” isn’t a femme fatale, that would be Jaime King, and frankly she’s kind of boring. I had a hard time adjusting to Brolin at first (he replaces Clive Owen), but he falls into the time-honored tradition of noir: He understands that good men in noirs are corrupted by lust and passion. Christopher Meloni is very good, likely to get overlooked in reviews, as the square cop who also gets sucked into lust. I don’t know why Brolin and Meloni don’t square off since they are both into the same babe, who happens to be luscious, tantalizing, and worth killing for.
Steering away into a “main plot,” the antagonist of the film is the sadistic senator played by Powers Boothe who has lots of hateful lines of dialogue. Somebody has to kill him. Will it be poker ace Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt)? Will it be the Kadie’s Bar exotic dancer Nancy (Jessica Alba)? Will it be John Hartigan (Bruce Willis, who, uh, died in the first “Sin City!”)? Will it be S&M streetwalker Gail (Rosario Dawson)?
I could tell you who kills Senator Roark at the end and it wouldn’t make a difference. “Sin City” is not about the destination, it is about the absorption of mood getting there. You could turn on any random twenty minutes and get the same impressive effect. But indeed, it gets exhausting at 102 minutes, even if it’s shorter than the “Sin City” from nine years ago. And the babes of the movie doin’ the manipulating and swindling are more interesting than the avenging of Senator Roark anyway.
As much as I’ve always liked Jessica Alba and Rosario Dawson, it is the Ava character played by Eva Green who takes the cake and has you eating it off the ground from her mouth. “Sex always made you stupid, ready to believe anything,” Ava says, lowering the boom, “Just do one last thing for me, lover. Stay still long enough for me to blow your brains out.” She’s blown our minds, even before she has gone nude in the moonlit dip in the pool. So very sexy.
Also with Dennis Haysbert (replacing the original’s Michael Clarke Duncan), Jeremy Piven, Christopher Lloyd, Stacy Keach, Jaime King, Juno Temple and Lady Gaga.
138 Minutes. Rated PG-13.
FILM NOIR / COMIC BOOK LORE / SATURDAY NIGHT TRANCE-OUT
Film Cousins: “The Lady from Shanghai” (1948); “Sin City” (2005); “Grindhouse” (2007); “The Spirit” (2008).