In an interview on Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, Robert Rodriguez revealed his desire to have the final product be more of a graphic novel than a film. In theory, this idea is fine. In practice, it conjures up the tireless shuffling on whether book-to-film adaptations always favor books or films or neither. There is a precedent for the successful graphic novel-to-film jump: Rodriguez is fresh off the recent success of the first Sin City. And by recent, I mean 2005. A lot can happen in how we view narratives in that time (a lot did happen) and pretty soon what was novel is now not. Because of the relative uniqueness and the films it influenced (Renaissance, anyone?), this issue is especially pertinent for a film like Sin City. Most of the characters in both Sin City and this year’s Sin City 2 remind you the city never changes. Ten years later, it hasn’t changed. That’s not a good thing.
Following with the same spectacular visuals and anthology format as the first movie, this film is divided into three smaller stories following Marv (Mickey Rourke) and Nancy (Jessica Alba); Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt); and Dwight McCarthy (Josh Brolin) and Ava Lord (Eva Green). Getting into the details of each story wouldn’t be fair here so I will say this: they all chronicle betrayal, gritty redemption, and reluctant vendettas. They are variations on a theme. Of course lots of blood, booze, sex and, well, sin fill in the gaps.
The problems start with the stories. They never really connect the way other anthology movies have-the city or “a dame to kill for” hardly cut it as the overarching theme-and so the whole package is confusing. Why now? This is the question with which I’m left. Why do these misfits and losers decide to tackle the seediest players in town at this point in their lives? What makes them snap? The three main stories following the three dames are arranged so that any answer we might come up with is never satisfying. Part of the blame lies with the actors. All the females play a variation on the sultry, sexy temptress and all the males play a variation on the cool, pained killer. This is a race to the bottom (or a race to the top, depending on your optimism) to see which actor works this monochromed archetype the best.
On the ladies’ side, the answer is decidedly not Eva Green. Her most serious and intimate scenes, threaded by an accent intent on masking the small bird lodged in her throat, had me on the verge of laughter. Normally, I think she’s a great actress (Vesper’s dead-on counterpoint to Bond’s machismo is one of the biggest reasons I loved Casino Royale). This time, she phones it in. Part of me thinks she felt her nude scenes would drive the action. And there are a lot: it seems her topless torso had as much screen time as Joseph Gordon-Levitt. No matter how lovingly the filmmakers light and shoot it, skin is not character or good writing.
On the male side, the best player is Marv, the one character who really does the film justice. He plays his variation better than Brolin or Gordon-Levitt. He just needed more screen time. If the other characters were given the same humanity as Marv, A Dame to Kill For might not have bombed. As it is, the flashy look can’t save the film from its more substantive woes.