Sin City: A Dame to Kill For: A Bad Film or a Bad Rap?

By Michelle Donnelly · August 25, 2014

It’s been nine years since Sin City premiered to critical acclaim and commercial success. Based on Frank Miller’s popular noir books, Miller himself served as co-director alongside Robert Rodriguez. Inspired by authors such as Mickey Spillane, Miller tells stories that are part thriller, part grit, and part comical violence. Rodriguez is known for directing From Dusk till Dawn, Spy Kids and Machete as well as his association with Quentin Tarantino. From cinematography to editing to visual effects, Rodriguez is highly skilled in all aspects of filmmaking. Their collaboration was a perfect hit in 2005. The question that lingered for nine years though, was would they able to recreate their success?

Derived from Miller’s 1993 miniseries comic book, “A Dame to Kill For,” the latest installment brings us four integrated storylines. Back is Marv (Mickey Rourke), that slightly deranged, yet loveable, character that avenged the death of his one-night stand, Goldie, in the original. Also Nancy’s (Jessica Alba) protector, he becomes involved as she seeks revenge for the death of Detective John Hartigan (Bruce Willis). Hartigan saved her from a sadistic child killer and his suicide continues to haunt her. Next, gambler Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) dares to take on the villainous Senator Roark (Powers Boothe) in a backroom poker game. The most prominent story revolves around Dwight McCarthy (Josh Brolin), a private detective who becomes entangled with ex-lover, Ava Lord (Eva Green). Now married to a wealthy businessman, she professes her unhappiness to Dwight and intimates that she fears for her life. The story follows Dwight who, no longer able to control his love for Ava, becomes embroiled in the fight of his life.

The acting is not the main focus in A Dame to Kill For, but one must credit the actors for the subtle performances each delivers with ease, especially in light of dialogue that at times, is stilted and cheesy. The film is most certainly as visually appealing as its predecessor. Where the original seemed to drag in parts, A Dame to Kill For weaves together vignettes that entertain and keep the story moving. The stories are not unprecedented in their originality, but one could argue they don’t need to be. The beauty of the genre is that its stories are simple. Crime, sex and seedy characters have always been the mix and this movie provides exactly that. It’s not revolutionary, but it is solid.

While possibly lost within the presentation, Rodriguez and Miller do offer genuine nuggets of philosophical musings. Power, corruption, good verses evil and love are considered in fantastical form. It’s a movie where hookers unite and brandish their own form of vigilante justice. In comic book form killing appears, well comical, which leaves us free to mull over it’s meaning. The ‘bad’ people in this movie are bad, but the message is that evil is worse and must be stopped at all cost. Further, the bad are bad because there is no alternative. For all their faults, we root for the downtrodden because we can relate to being minimized in a society that thrives on money and power. Miller and Rodriguez avenge evil in a way that we wish we could in real life.

Neither opening weekend box office totals, nor critics have been kind to A Dame to Kill For. Sin City was groundbreaking in 2005. Miller and Rodriguez’s twist on noir rejuvenated the genre and just because there is less shock value for audiences, it should not minimize the merits of this film. A Dame to Kill For offers us storylines that entertain and sound acting within a visually stunning package. For most movies this would be a combination for a sure fire hit. Theories will be plentiful to explain its dismal performance. Maybe too much time elapsed between the original, maybe it’s too violent, or maybe it’s too depressing a view of society. Then again, maybe if you ignore all the theories you will find a movie that delivers in most everyway it should.