‘I’ ON CULTURE
I am torn when writing about Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. The movie is slick and moves quickly, but the subject matter is unappealing. A sequel to the Sin City film that director Robert Rodriguez did back in 2005, it has great production values. The plot moves quickly, occasionally a bit too quickly. But the characters are unsympathetic. The men in the picture are generally stupid and violent; the women either evil or insane. Anyone not in this category is nothing more than a victim. As one character explained, “Anything the city doesn’t corrupt, it soils.” That probably goes at least a bit for the audience.
There are three stories told. Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a wise-guy gambler who always breaks the odds. Any time he tosses a coin in a slot machine, it pays off. He wins every hand at cards. He goes up against a powerful man, Senator Roark (Powers Boothe) and takes his money at poker. In retaliation, Roark shoots him, breaks his fingers and tells him that he recognizes him. Johnny is his son, but it seems the only son he ever loved was the insane killing monster destroyed in the first movie. Johnny gets fixed up by a whisky-guzzling Christopher Lloyd, and returns to take on his father again… with terrible results.
In the second of the three stories, Dwight (Josh Brolin), a not-very-bright private eye, is contacted by ex-lover Ava (Eva Green) who tells him that her rich husband, the man she left Dwight for, beats her regularly. She begs for help when Manute (Dennis Haysbert), her husband’s servant, drags her off. He tries to rescue her and is beaten. She comes after Dwight, seduces him, and he enlists his violent friend Marv (Mickey Rourke) to help. They go in and kill the husband, only to find that Ava had been manipulating them. She needed someone to kill her husband and make her very rich. Dwight flees to Old Town, where the hookers have their own posse led by Gail (Rosario Dawson) and her partner Miho (Jamie Chung), who swings a mean samurai sword. In the meantime, Ava seduces police lieutenant Mort (Christopher Meloni) investigating the case to get him to take down Dwight, and the story rambles on from there.
The third story focuses on Nancy (Jessica Alba), who was the helpless girl at the center of the plot in the first movie. Now she’s a crazed stripper who drinks constantly, talks to the ghost of John Hartigan (Bruce Willis), who died for her in the first film, and who slashes her own face. She enlists Marv to go after the senator, and they have another fun battle.
The major problem is that all the protagonists are crazy. If they’re not mean, they get manipulated and/or killed. There is no sweet moral to the story. Back with the old film noir days of the late 1940s, we lingered on the corruption, had a chance to smell the rotten flowers before the bad guys eventually lost. Here there is no moral to the stories except eventual corruption. This movie uses the background of those old movies but flashes through at cartoon speed. The violence is often cartoonish. Bad guys go down casually and easily if they are not important. Miho, at one point, is chased by four machine-gun-wielding baddies who always miss. She jumps through a skylight, and they fire dozens of bullets down at her. Then she pops up and with one major move slices off all four heads.
The cast is good, even in extremely one-dimensional roles. Gordon-Levitt is about the only nice one, and he handles that well. Boothe is excellent as the lead bad guy. Green, however, dominates every scene she is in. She is a bad woman and seems to have a ball doing it.
The film is very stylized. Parts are actually run as cartoons. It is in black and white, except for an occasional splash of color. Things move so fast that the audience has little time to be disgusted by the violence or the overall theme.
This is not a movie for everyone. Many people, maybe the majority, will find it too sleazy. Still, it is stylish and, in its own way, entertaining. But, be warned.