“Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” Graphic, Indeed
By Michael S. Goldberger
Special to the Observer
Whether you call it beautifully ugly or repulsively beautiful, there’s no denying that Messrs. Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez’s “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” is fanatically violent. That’s doubtlessly the intent. While some of the cutting edge ideas and eye-popping visuals surely impress the gray matter, after a while enough is too much. I like to think I’ve evolved far and away from any distant ancestors’ appetite for the random mayhem displayed. But for those who have not, get your decapitations here.
Yep, step right up…there’s lots of that in a variety of styles, as well as the random dispossession of all other body portions, too, including no small focus on, and mention of, the so-called private parts. All of which creates a distracting aura for one who doesn’t instinctively gather at venues where such grisly abhorrence is regularly perpetrated. You can’t help but wonder what the attraction is as your hard drive recalls the prophecies opined in “A Clockwork Orange” (1971).
This is nihilistic stuff. The auteurs apparently don’t subscribe to the same artistic notion that Hitchcock hung his horror noose on, wherein the director leaves the really ominous speculations to the viewer’s imagination. Here, much of the suspense is dispensed with, the buckets of blood unabashedly spoon-fed to whomsoever wishes to lap it up. Well, that’s show business.
Too bad, because the creativity that goes into these otherwise questionable perpetrations is impressive. The art work, much of which would be worthy of wall space at the right gallery, both champions and satirizes its comic roots. And the neo film noir gist that supports the dark ethos at the heart of the “Sin City” franchise is smartly written. But while these noted values help ensure our interest until about the halfway point, after the sanguinity gets repetitious one is apt to ask, “Why am I watching this?”
Granting partial dispensation for what might be deemed guilty thrills by those who would ordinarily have no truck with such distasteful carryings-on, a marvelous ensemble cast purveys the bedlam. Taking center stage in one of the series of stories that comprises the total saga, James Brolin is superb as the Hammettesque gumshoe, Dwight McCarthy, thunderstruck by the lady alluded to in the title. She is the vampish and conniving Ava, played to the nines by Eva Green. Her past is mysterious, her future, surely sinister.
Reprising his role from the first, circa 2005 adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic novel, Mickey Rourke is Marv, a barfly/ghetto warrior/murdering avenger whose ostensible good guy status makes him a bizarre antihero. What a piece of work, fashioned as only Mickey could imagine him. He is estimably joined by Powers Boothe as crooked Senator Roark; Jessica Alba as poor, put upon go-go dancer Nancy; and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Johnny, the, uh, lucky gambler.
These are shockingly downtrodden folk, scrounging around in the very aptly named title metropolis. There is virtually no sunshine, and even less hope. If there’s anyone in Sin City who isn’t either in the saloon cheering on the lascivious dancers or out in the dark, dank alleys murdering someone, it isn’t brought to our attention. Dysfunction is the celebrated rule. The only thing that brings anyone a smile is revenge.
While a giambotta of sordid little plots claws for your attention, there are two main stories, unwisely delivered separately. A knitting of all the elements in tandem, although surely requiring some fancy splicing, would have proved less anticlimactic. Also disconcerting, if you’re the sort who requires more than an “eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” in your film entertainment, the yarns rarely segue from their patently visceral bent. Comedy relief? There’s no comedy relief in Hell.
The moral lessons are delivered begrudgingly and cynically, the film preferring to leave you with the notion that, while there may be a perfunctorily inserted, so-called happy ending, one can’t ever escape from The Man and his accursed control. A Lord of the Flies, Powers Boothe’s hatefully despotic Senator Roark laughs at his constituents’ dreams to realize anything but their bleak subservience. It is purposely overdone, but to a fault.
Pity is, the CGI overlay, which imbues the actors with a near eerie, quasi-comic book exaggeration, combined with a similarly painted landscape, is done so well. You’d like to see it better utilized. But like the movie’s characters, it’s all so curiously negative. While re-reading Schopenhauer’s theories on pessimism may lend insight into the filmmakers’ philosophical point, if indeed there is one, let it suffice that the tiresome obsession with original sin in “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” dooms it to fall from our good graces.
“Sin City: A Dame to Kill For,” rated R, is a Weinstein Company release directed by Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez and stars, James Brolin, Jessica Alba and Mickey Rourke. Running time: 104 minutes