Movie Review: Sin City 'A Dame to Kill For'

Movie Review: Sin City ‘A Dame to Kill For’

A city built on violent reasoning

By Mark HadleyWednesday 17 Sep 2014MoviesReading Time: 3 minutes

Anyone who has seen the first Sin City will probably wonder why I found myself in the cinema for the second one. Adult language? Check. Gratuitous violence? Check. Sexual content? Check. But since both critics and young filmgoers alike are going to be making much of this title, I figure it can’t hurt preparing you for the conversation with a less concerned friend.

Move Review: Sin City 'A Dame to Kill For'. 
A Dame To Kill For borrows strongly from the plot of the first Sin City, re-introducing characters who featured in Frank Miller’s comic-cum-film and picking up the threads of its storyline to create the current drama. Like the first installment, A Dame To Kill For is broken up into four separate storylines based on Miller’s publications. They include the return of Mickey Rourke as the hulk-like enforcer Marv whose bored indifference to life leads him on several rampages. Bruce Willis is also back as the hard-boiled detective Hartigan, though this time as a ghost concerned for the welfare of his former girlfriend Nancy (Jessica Alba). And there are also a roster of new characters like Joseph Gordon Levitt’s Johnny, a cocky young gambler who’s determined to not only take down the biggest game in town but teach his illegitimate father a morality lesson.

After the violence, the style is probably the most notable thing about A Dame To Kill For. Director Robert Rodriguez has perfectly realized the film noir world of crime and sleaze that emerged from American fiction writers like Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett – right down to the Maltese Falcon dialogue:

“…She was late as usual – and as usual, she was worth waiting for…”

“…Where are we going baby?” / “Everywhere…”

“…No one has ever really guessed what Hell is – it’s watching the ones you love in pain…”

Chandler and Hammett were the champions of the pulp magazine and the dime-store novel, but it would be as much a mistake to dismiss their contributions to literature as it would be to ignore the philosophy undergirding A Dame To Kill For.

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While their contemporaries were writing classics like Gone With the Wind and The Grapes of Wrath the leaders of the detective fiction genre were unveiling a corruption at the heart of the American Dream. Later Chandler would write about the fundamental lack of hope at the core of his genre:

“The emotional basis of the standard detective story was and had always been that murder will out and justice will be done. The dénouement would justify everything. The technical basis of the [pulp magazine] type of story on the other hand was that the scene outranked the plot.”

In short, the reactions are far more entertaining, more significant than the conclusions. Why? Probably because the world was beginning to lose its faith in solved puzzles, grand meanings and happy endings. As Chandler put it, “… the ideal mystery was one you would read if the end was missing.” This is something A Dame To Kill For definitely picks up on.

There is an excessive amount of violence-as-art that seems to mimic the more ham-fisted constructions of Quentin Tarantino, but Rodriguez and Miller’s characters are certainly following Chandler’s lead. Josh Brolin’s Dwight McCarthy and gun-toting prostitute Gail (Rosario Dawson) are always asking each other why they’re expecting anything sensible out of life:

Dwight: “I thought there was another world out there.”

Gail: “There’s only Sin City.”

Ironically their striving for some form of justice – usually revenge or payback – just goes to show the human mind isn’t satisfied with this staring into the void. As the writer of Ecclesiastes observed, we’ve been designed to understand that life is more than just ‘now’ – “[God] has set eternity in the human heart…[He] does it so that people will fear Him.”  But alongside that A Dame To Kill For recognizes another Christian truth. Sin is virulent and unavoidable. “This rotten town,” says Hartigan. “It soils everybody.” It’s biggest failing in the end, though, is not the violence or the language or the sexuality, but settling for the lie that there is no solution.

Rating: MA 15+
Distributor: Icon
Release Date: September 18