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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Frank Miller's Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
Frank Miller's Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
Starz / Anchor Bay // R // November 18, 2014
List Price: $29.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Jamie S. Rich | posted December 16, 2014 | E-mail the Author
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Sometimes it's easy to see why a movie doesn't hit with audiences, particularly when it's a sequel. There are legions of bad Part IIs and even worse Part IIIs, so many would-be franchises sputter on the second time around. Then again, sometimes a sequel delivers exactly what an audience liked the first time, and so handicapping its box office failure can be a little trickier. While I know that the common wisdom was that Sin City's moment had passed and that people wanted A Dame to Kill For eight years ago, let's be honest, Dumb and Dumber To took even longer to stink up cineplexes and audiences paid cash to see that anyway. There's no wisdom to any of this.

Some of the venom that got spit all over Sin City: A Dame to Kill For's box office receipts (or lack thereof) was, I suppose, aimed at the series creator, Frank Miller, whose cultural caché has dwindled due to a few poor creative choices and some unpopular political outbursts. Likewise, co-director Robert Rodriguez has had some of his cool go decidedly cold, presumably for unleashing a few turkeys with bravado not dissimilar to his collaborator's. But then again, wouldn't all of that make this the perfect time to come roaring back with that one triumphant thing that made everyone sit up and take notice once upon a long time ago? One would think so.

My bafflement over the sneers and the jeers for A Dame to Kill For has only grown now that I have finally seen it. While certainly the runtier sibling to the 2005 outing, it's a perfectly entertaining movie, maintaining the essence of what made the first Sin City such a hit, displaying the same stark and pulpy style that made Miller a singular voice on the page and that Rodriguez managed to translate to cinema. Tough guys, even tougher gals, cornball dialogue delivered through gritted teeth, those same teeth knocked out in a spray of blood--I mean, come on. You don't go to Sin City for anything other than Sin City.

In actuality, while A Dame to Kill For may not be as fresh as its predecessor, it is leaner and meaner and maybe more concise in its vision. Its four stories have a stronger link, seeming to spring out of the same handful of nights, all centering around the peeler saloon where Nancy Callahan (Jessica Alba) dances and turns heads, and all ostensibly driven by the same villainous force. Powers Boothe's Roark could easily have been swapped out for Stacy Keach's Wallenquist, they both essentially serve the same purpose.

After a brief prelude focusing on the angular and grizzled Marv (Mickey Rourke), Rodriguez and Miller set up the dueling Roark narratives: a gambling showdown between the Senator and a daring young turk (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Nancy's revenge for Roark killing her protector, John Hartigan (Bruce Willis), in the first movie. (Willis returns here as a ghost.) Both of those tales are split down the middle by the title track, the adaptation of A Dame to Kill For, the second graphic novel, with Josh Brolin taking over Dwight duties from Clive Owen and Eva Green stepping into the femme fatale role once intended for Angelina Jolie.

While it would have been nice to have Owen return for the second half of the story, after Dwight's facelift, if there is one benefit to having the sequel delayed for so long, it's that Jolie dropped out and the Penny Dreadful star stepped into Ava's high-heeled shoes. Because to single in on one very good reason to see Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, it's to see Green tear up the usual dangerous dame part and make it her own. Her transformation from scared siren to scary seductress is the movie's most compelling--and possibly only--character arc, and Green is clearly having a hoot being so good at being bad. The only performer that comes even close to matching her relish is Rosario Dawson, reprising her role as Gail, the queen of the bad girls of Old Town. Dawson's Cheshire Cat grin is the most believable prop in Rodriguez's green-screen universe.

Though, to be fair, the boys of Sin City are required to take the whole thing very seriously. If their jaws unclench, the entire conceit will fall apart. Brolin makes for a good lug, and Gordon-Levitt's casual intensity is perfect for the driven card sharp Johnny. They might not be having as much fun as their female co-stars, but they are getting into the spirit of the thing all the same.

Sure, there's not much innovation to the second Sin City. The special effects are all the more slick (and probably looked phenomenal in 3D), but it's still your basic black-and-white world with occasional splashes of color. The thing is, the original is innovative enough, particularly for a franchise that is all about revelling in familiar genre tropes. Maybe it was a case of people expecting too much, or they just had enough with the first one, I don't know, but truth is, y'all missed out. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is a perfectly enjoyable return visit to a favorite locale.


Sin City: A Dame to Kill For comes to DVD as a widescreen transfer, anamorphic, 1.85:1. The presentation is excellent, with perfectly sharp resolution and strong, solid blacks creating a beautiful contrast to the more considered whites. Honestly, though I was a little disappointed scoring only the standard-definition DVD of Sin City: A Dame to Kill For and not the Blu-ray, the mastering here is so good I didn't even notice.

The main soundtrack is given a pretty good Dolby Digital 5.1 mix that works the speakers, pushing the sound all around the room and dropping the appropriate effects in the right places.

Subtitle options are Spanish and English for the deaf and hearing impaired.

A handful of bonus features are mostly predictable and sometimes pointless, such as the high-speed green screen version, which is essentially the entire movie before special effects but shown so fast so as to take only 15 minutes rather than 102. I guess if you have nothing else to do with the next quarter hour....

There are also some standard EPK-type features focusing on makeup effects and stunts, as well as a collection of character profiles with actor interviews. The characters shown are Ava (Green), Dwight (Brolin), Nancy (Alba), and Johnny (Gordon-Levitt).

Alternately maligned and ignored, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is one of 2014's more notorious misses--and unfairly so. Robert Rodriguez returns to Frank Miller's comic book town for another go around, and while the technique is now familiar, there is still plenty of fun to be had. A mostly new cast, including Josh Brolin and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, step into the stylish criminal environs for a quartet of pulpy tales, and Eva Green and Rosario Dawson prove to be particularly bright spots amongst the darkness. Forget the snark and your own prejudice, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is Recommended.

Jamie S. Rich is a novelist and comic book writer. He is best known for his collaborations with Joelle Jones, including the hardboiled crime comic book You Have Killed Me, the challenging romance 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and the 2007 prose novel Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?, for which Jones did the cover. All three were published by Oni Press. His most recent projects include the futuristic romance A Boy and a Girl with Natalie Nourigat; Archer Coe and the Thousand Natural Shocks, a loopy crime tale drawn by Dan Christensen; and the horror miniseries Madame Frankenstein, a collaboration with Megan Levens. Follow Rich's blog at Confessions123.com.

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