I watched the first Sin City on my Ipod video back in 2006, and even on the tiny screen with unacceptably low resolution (by contemporary standards) I was utterly enthralled. The long awaited sequel has been released ten years after the original, and I was apprehensive as to its promise. The attempts by sequels to both relive and better the glories of the initial product have so often failed that its remarkable that the studios remain committed to doing them.
A Dame to Kill For is not better than the original film. In fact I would venture to say that Sin City in 2004 had a much more revolutionary impact. It was among the first live action films to be entirely shot before a green screen, and prepared audiences for further acclaimed Graphic Novel adaptations like 300, and Watchmen. That there were also poorly received flops like The Spirit says little more than the genre is subject to the same commercial risks as more mainstream genres.
Sin City seemed to come out of nowhere. The stylisation of the cinematography (in particular the famous colour-pass technique) resurrected the ‘film-noir’ sub-genre from long term obscurity, and the quality of the characters — not to mention the actors behind them — gave the film a raw power to which no amount of b movie action sequences can match. Playing Marv reinvigorated Micky Rourke’s career, which had languished in the 90s with action flops and a underwhelming segway into boxing. The latter left him with a botched facial reconstruction and an empty bank account. With Marv he returned to top of audiences demand, which is evident in A Dame to Kill For as his role was inflated by being a crowd favourite. He is fantastic in this film though, despite not really having his own story.
I’m not going to try and go through the whole cast, as I know that online film reviewers can often commit the sin of capitalising on the lack of an editor — the best use for such reviews is to induce sleep. But deserving a special mention is Jessica Alba, who seems untouched by the last decade and does a good job as Nancy struggling to accept the suicide of John Hardigan (Bruce Willis) and obsessed with vengence. Powers Boothe is even better this time as Senator Roarke, understandably so as he really only had one scene in the first movie. This time he is the main villain after Eva Green’s eponymous dame. They both are convincing ‘heavies’ and though Eva is as frequently topless as she is fully clothed, I am not going to complain.
Josh Brolin takes on the character of Dwight McCarthy who was played by Clive Owen in Sin City. He does a good, solid job, but I can’t deny that I miss the more psychological Owen. The sinister chauffeur and master at inflicting pain Manute is played by Dennis Haysbert, who replaces the late Michael Clark Duncan. Haysbert gives his character a tad more depth as to his motivations and background, but Manute remains a rather mysterious figure.
Almost finally I want to say that Joseph Gordon-Levitt is just as watchable as you might expect. He plays the interminably lucky gambler and ‘city-slicker’ Johnny. His card skills are brilliant, and his story has a fair bit of emotional power.
The women of A Dame to Kill For carry the film and give it the emotional depth needed to equal the previous instalment. The one in particular I want to mention is the 20 year old Julia Garner who plays Marcy. She is one of the girls working in Katy’s saloon and accompanies Johnny on his gambling spree. Garner seems to have walked out of cinemas golden age. She has a timeless beauty and curly hair that reminds me a little of Shirley Temple. But to trawl deeper than the cosmetic, Garner has an authentic presence, there is not a hint of falseness to her character, and Marcy is fully a part of the sinister world of Sin City, while being a naive and innocent part. Garner’s career is still in its early stages but she has been in a few other films already, including a starring role in Jim Mickle’s We Are What We Are. Watch out for Julia Garner, she is going to go far.