SIN CITY: A DAME TO DIE FOR
Dark. Moody. Hardboiled. Menacing. Heroic and Sacrificial. Film noir at its absolute best!!!
Film Review © 2014 by Trip Reynolds
Action/Drama/Neo-Film Noir/Science Fiction/Fantasy
Directed by Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez; Screenplay by Frank Miller. Produced by Sergei Bespalov, Aaron Kaufman, Stephen L'Heureux, Mark C. Manuel, Alexander Rodnyansky, and Robert Rodriguez. Co-produced by Tom Proper. Line Produced by Marty P. Ewing. Executive Produced by Marina Bespalov, Oleg Boyko, Sam Englebardt, Adam Fields, Wayne Marc Godfrey, Jere Hausfater, Kia Jam, William D. Johnson, Frank Miller, Kipp Nelson, Ted O'Neal, Allyn Stewart, Boris Teterev, Silenn Thomas, Bob Weinstein, and Harvey Weinstein.
Starring: Mickey Rourke (as brutish, Marv), Jessica Alba (as sexy and emotionally tormented, Nancy), Josh Brolin (as the pussy-whipped, Dwight), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (as the bastard son of Senator Roark, Johnny), Rosario Dawson (as leader Sin City's female pseudo-police force, Gail), Bruce Willis (as the deceased, Detective Hartigan); Eva Green (as the beautiful and manipulative "A Dame To Die For," Ava), Powers Boothe (as totally corrupt, evil and all powerful, Senator Roark), Dennis Haysbert (as Ava's chauffeur, bodyguard and enforcer, Manute), Ray Liotta (as the two-timing, Joey), Christopher Meloni (as yet other man victim to Ava's erotic spell, Detective Mort), Jeremy Piven (as Detective Mort's partner, Bob), Christopher Lloyd (as an unsavory and unsanitary, pseudo-Dr. Kroenig), Jamie King (as Goldie/Wendy), Juno Temple (as Sally), Stacy Keach (as Wallenqauist), Marton Csokas (as Damien Lord), Jude Ciccolella (as Senator Roark's right-hand man, Lt. Liebowitz), Jamie Chung (as the lethal, Miho), Julia Garner (as Marcie), Lady Gaga (as Bertha), Alexa PenaVega (as Gilda), Patricia Vonne (as Dallas), Bart Fletcher (as Flint), and a host of others.
This film is a masterful caricature of film noir and exceptionally delivered. The storytelling in this film is anchored to "images," and this film review is likewise conveyed. Click any image to enlarge.
Film is a visual masterpice with its robust palette of both beautiful and brutal images. If you love looking at visual images that are carefully, intentionally constructed to produce a desired effect on your brain, then this is the film for you. As with a great painting, or a comic book panel, or comic book page, or a graphic novel, the artist (director) is intentionally manipulating your eyes to watch certain elements in the film, or a key frame or scene. You really don't have a choice.
Although the film was shot with digital cameras primarily in front of a green screen, the film's visual canvas itself appears in rich black and white backgrounds and foreground, with stark contrasts to highlight the bold extremes in "blackness" and "whiteness," which are punctuated with a selective use of primary colors, such as luscious red lips, georgeous green eyes, and more (click photo at left to enlarge).
Classic film noir is defined by Humphrey Bogart, Robert Mitchum, Elizabeth Scott, Veronica Lake, smoke filled rooms, dolls and dames, deceit and the double-cross, and men constantly lighting cigarettes for the dame they're more than willing to die for.
This is one of the best films I've seen this or any year. It's compelling, atmospheric, violent, sexy, and even though " . . . the dame had it coming . . . " the film was wonderfully unpredictable.
Consistent with the best of film noir, "Sin City: A Dame To Die For" reeks of voice over metaphors and double entendres and pulls it all off with aplomb. Film creates a totally bleak and opaque environment of failed humanity, where life is measured more by death than by life itself. The story? Film kinda begins where the previous film ended, with a few counterbalancing episodic-based storylines added to bring us full circle. Marv (Micky Rourke), who remains the ultimate force to be reckoned with, is protecting Nancy (Jessica Alba) who's all grown-up, now dancing and gyrating with next-to-nothing-on in bar, and she's haunted by troubling memories of Dectective Hartigan (Bruce Willis) who died to protect her. Meanwhile, Marv's buddy, Dwight (this time played by Josh Brolin instead of Clive Owen), needs help dealing with (here comes the cliché) an alarmingly attractive "dame to die for," Ava (Eva Green). Ava is supposedly being forced to stay with her abusive husband, who keeps her under the constant eye of his towering manservant, Manute (Dennis Haysbert). Meanwhile, Senator Roark (played with demonic glee by Powers Boothe), is still grieving over the death of his sexually deviant son (killed in the pervious film by Hartigan), and he refuses to accept his illegitimate son, Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who never loses when he gambles at cards, slot machines, etc.
As with the 2005 film, "Sin City," Micky Rourke's performance as Marv is utterly commanding. Marv is a brute, and he steals every scene with his physicality, voice, and persona. The transformation of Rourke (pictured at right) into Marv is itself exceptional, particularly because the end product captures the look and feel of the graphic novel source material written by Frank Miller, who also served with Robert Rodriguez as co-director of this film.
In the 2005 film, I was impressed by the realism given to Rourke's facial make-up and body prostheses. Now, it seems Rourke looks perfectly at home as Marv.
Comparisions? You've never seen a film with the "look and feel" of "Sin City." Yes, "The Spirit" released in 2008, written and directed by Frank Miller, has a similar look but it failed because the look was not consistently applied throughout the film and the script was no where near as tight or as bold as "Sin City: A Dame to Die For." 1990's "Dick Tracy," rated PG, directed by and starred Warren Beatty, also took a film noir approach to present Chester Gould's legendary character, and many of the characters (Dustin Hoffman as "Mumbles," William Forsythe as "Flattop," R.G. Armstrong as "Pruneface") wore facial and body make-up prostheses like Marv in "Sin City." However, "Dick Tracy" was shot in color and without the stark realism of naked sex and brutal violence offered by R-rated "Sin City." Beatty never made a planned sequel due to legal battles beginning in 2002 with Tribune Media over the film and character rights, but he eventually won in 2011. So, if Beatty makes a sequel, it would be interesting to see if Beatty's update stays within the rated PG box, or if he transforms Gould's character to a grittier film noir edge. He won't.
Why does this film have two directors? Robert Rodriguez is known for being an independent writer/director, and as necessary, for going against the grain to get his films made. But who is Frank Miller? Frank Miller is "the guy" ultimately responsible for creating "the buzz" in the comic book industry that ultimately prompted the film industry to launch the film adaptations of his comic book stories such as "The 300" and "Ronin" and "Sin City" and "The Spirit" and more. What, you didn't know that "The Dark Knight Returns" was based on Frank Millers graphic novel? Miller also created the comic book character "Elektra." Miller is a writer, artist, and film director. In summary, Rodriguez and Miller are "visual artists" first, and its their commitment to art (both print and film), and to storytelling, that makes "Sin City" so rewarding. This film is one of those extremely rare occassions where the writer (Frank Miller), directors (Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez), and cinematrographer (Robert Rodriguez) joined forces to create a visual masterpiece. Take a look at the beautiful images of Ava below. The beauty of "Sin City" is not confined to the femininity of Eva Green's vivacious physical presence, but demonstrated by the overall construction of all images in the film, the strategic use of silhouette, mid-range shots taken from a worm's eye perspective, overarching shots taken from a bird's eye perspective, and up-close-and-personal-close-ups that seemingly reveal a character's inner turmoil, duplicity, or as in the case of Powers Boothe's "Senator Roark," we see unabashed evil. Like Rourke, Boothe also steals every scene with his physicality, voice, and persona. Hopefully, Rourke and Boothe are not overlooked when Oscar-time comes around.
THE WOMEN: "Sin City" accurately conveys three film noir standards:
(1) women are not weak;
(2) women look like women with curves that make real men weak; and most importantly,
(3) men succumb to the dame. Film noir women are powerful, ruthless, sexy, manipulative, and well, they cannot be trusted.
Women, and not men, provide all law enforcement in "Sin City," which is why men with bad intentions are wise not to enter, or face the immediate and lethal justice of Miho (Jamie Chung) and her peers.
THE MEN: Weak men don't fair well in film noir; they get killed. Known primarily for his role as President of the United States in the televison series "24" and as spokesman in the Allstate Insurance commercials, Dennis Haysbert replaced the late Michael Clarke Duncan as Ava's chauffeur and bodyguard, Manute.
Manute immediately made his presence known and felt by the beating he delivered to Josh Brolin's "Dwight." The visual force-of-impact of Manute's blows to Dwight's head and body coupled with the sound effects attached to the physical punishment to Dwight's body nearly made my seat vibrate. Bam. Bamm. Bammm. Thud. Then came the fight of all fights between Marv and Manute. Damn. That was truly a brutal and ugly slugfest. Oh, it didn't last long because these two juggernauts were playing for keeps - last man standing really won! Violence in "The Expendables 3," rated PG-13, is cartoonish in comparison to this R-rated film.
Credit should be given to casting director Mary Vernieu for putting together a great cast. The last time many people saw Christopher Meloni he was detective Elliot Stabler on the long-running NBC television series "Law and Order: Special Victims Unit." So, it probably surprised people to see Meloni as a brooding, fedora wearing, seedy, pussy-whipped Detective Mort. The bird's eye view of Mort fornicating with Ava on the bare floor is, well, classic! Ray Liotta has a certain flair for arousing revulsion and was similarly disgusting as the two-timing, Joey.
The emotionally tormented Nancy eventually loses to her inner demons, scars herself, and goes after the man responsible for her angst, Senator Roark. There's a subtle surrealism here as Nancy evolves from sexpot to vigilante. In order to validate a better film climax, script should have given more time to validate Nancy's prowess in weapons and/or fighting skills. However, given Hartigan's death, Nancy is also a dame to die for, and she evolved to become a dame who would also kill to seek her revenge.
Although his appearance was relatively brief, Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), the bastard son of Senator Roark, had a rollercoaster ride in the film, and nevertheless, he made a lasting impression. Gordon-Levitt did a great job giving his character an identity, and a charisma that clearly antagonized his father, which was a mistake.
Brolin, who replaced British actor Clive Owen as "Dwight," is a better fit for this natively American film noir role. Film noir nearly always presents a suckered gumshoe or other male victim obsessed to kill for the dame, or to be killed by the dame. Brolin wears the beleaguered look of victim quite well.
Rosario Dawson's "Gail" didn't get as much screen time in this sequel, and that's a shame. As the sultry and deadly leader of "Sin City's" all-female pseudo-police force, the interaction between lascivious men and dames could have been exploited for a better cliamax at film's end. Yes, I wanted to see more of Miho!
Directors Miller and Rodriguez collaborate well together. Rodriguez, who also edited the film, gave the film a brisk pacing, and at only 102 minutes, we're left wanting more.
All technical aspects of film are first class, especially sound, makeup, art, special effects and visual effects. Film credits show stunt doubles for Josh Brolin, Dennis Haysbert, Eva Green, and Jessica Alba, but no one specifically for Mickey Roarke.
Recommendations: See this movie ASAP. Buy the original "Sin City" on DVD/BluRay. Of course, buy "Sin City: A Dame To Kill For" when it (hopefully containing an unrated version) becomes available on DVD/BluRay. Plus, encourage the production companies (Troublemaker Studios, Miramax Films, Demarest Films, Aldamisa Entertainment, and Solipsist Film) to produce a third film.