Box Office Democracy: “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For”
I was remarking to a friend a few weeks back that I was afraid that I had grown out of Sin City, that the franchise I had loved so much as a teenager/young adult was just beneath me now. I don’t think that’s it though, not entirely, popular culture itself seems to have absorbed the things it likes from Sin City and moved on. All that’s left is a movie that feels just as old and tired as the original film felt new and fresh nine years ago.
Before I go any further I have to shower praise on Joseph Gordon-Levitt, a man who seems to have been born to play noir leads. While this is no secret to anyone who saw his dynamite performance in Brick it’s a treat to watch him do this work and a crying shame that there aren’t more opportunities for him to do it. His scenes are easily the best in the movie as they crackle with an ephemeral energy that can’t quite hold on when he’s not on screen. He’s helped a bit by a story that clicks more thematically with classic film noir but there’s no denying that he’s pushing the entire movie higher with his performance.
The rest of the new cast I cannot speak nearly as highly of. There are a number of roles recast this time around and they’re almost all downgrades. Dennis Haysbert tries really hard and does a decent job but Michael Clarke Duncan was born to play Manute. Trading Michael Madsen for Jeremy Piven is a travesty. Josh Brolin has gigantic shoes to fill replacing Clive Owen and he does a good job until they want him to start looking exactly like Owen and then he becomes distracting and weird looking. Eva Green starts very strong but as the movie demands more and more of her in the way of subtlety in her performance she stumbles and comes off as cartoony in a way that the movie just can’t handle it.
The visuals are less stunning this time around as we’ve been treated to nine years of people making movies that look exactly like comic books and many of those books have been Frank Miller books. While Robert Rodriguez is a hundred times the filmmaker Zack Snyder is, the copying of this aesthetic that he and others have done serves to cheapen the effect. I didn’t spend nearly as much time marveling at how perfectly they had recreated the panels in the comic anymore not because they did less of it, although I secretly suspect there was less, but because that’s not exciting anymore. The industry has outpaced this film.
I try not to let stuff like this bother me but there’s a pretty blatant continuity error in one of the new stories written for this movie. It goes against everything presented in the original film and all of the graphic novels. Normally I wouldn’t let something like this bother me but considering the lack of any attempt to patch over it in the film and the complete lack of attention Miller has given this franchise in between films it leaves me feeling like he just doesn’t care. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For doesn’t feel like something Miller is doing because he wants to or because he loves it, it feels like what he’s doing because nothing he’s done in the intermediate time has worked out. I left the theater feeling like if The Spirit had made $400 million instead of $40 million we never would have gotten this. I want the work an artist is excited to produce, not the stuff he makes because he feels he has no choice.