The novelty of the first film’s visually singular page-to-screen translation having long since passed, nine years later it’s a look that continues to stand apart in a crowded comic book multiplex. As confidentially realised and violently ‘shot and chopped’ as it was the first time, thankfully Robert Rodriguez still doesn’t feel any burden of having to slavishly re-produce panels as Zack Synder did with Watchmen.
Black and white underworld films have always famously flopped, and the negative press over bad box office and Sin City 2‘s DOA debut in the bottom end of this week’s US top ten was never going to correlate with the niche audience of fans who’ll flip for anything with femme fatales and crooked cops that rolls around in the moral murk of monochrome. A decade later, the sequel comes with little expectation outside of that loyal following and the resolve of co-creators Rodriguez and Frank Miller to finally bring a passion project that has had its plug pulled more than once to the big screen. For noir junkies it’s been worth the wait, standing as Rodriguez’s best film since the 2005 original (considering his recent output that’s not huge praise, I know), and it’s a city I’d love for him to continue re-visiting if only the bean counters and the general public felt the same way.
Admittedly, even for those it will appeal to most, the various story threads aren’t half as high stakes and due to a curious lack of urgency or dramatic drive, the whole thing plays more like an epilogue than a sequel. That the dialogue isn’t nearly so authentically hardboiled this time around is indicative of a follow-up more interested in blood spray and gun play than reverentially re-imagining the archetypes of old school noir films. As the laws of diminishing returns go, a re-cast Josh Brolin is no Clive Owen. Owen had something of noir icon Robert Ryan’s rage about him, whereas Brolin comes off as just another out of time beefed-up bruiser, too similar to Mickey Rouke’s returning hulk of muscle, Marv.
For once, new addition Joseph Gordon-Levitt is able to play a cocky card shark without coming off as such a smug git himself. His face gets punched in plenty, but this time I felt no compulsion to want to pound it myself. Suave and slick, his scenes opposite a remorseless Powers Boothe (clearly revelling the expanded role of the corrupt senator holding sway over Sin City) are full to the brim with tough-talking attitude and crisp comebacks. These scenes also feature luscious-lipped nymph Julia Garner, the only character seen in full colour, whose curls are so blond and lips so red, it’d be a crime to shoot her in black and white.
But for all the gun-toting hookers enforcing Sin City’s mean streets, Jessica Alba, Rosario Dawson and Juno Temple barely register when pitted against Eva Green’s enticing manipulative mistress, whose character is the dame of the title and to whom the film nakedly belongs. One hell of a dangerous dame, Ava Lord might not be given lines that land her in Barbara Stanwyck’s league, but the venom of Green’s delivery is enough to recall Lizabeth Scott in Too Late For Tears or Ann Savage in Detour.
And if you’re the type whose baser pleasures run to double-crossing, leg-opening operators with a hardline in getting men hard and playing them for patsys, it doesn’t get much better than this snarling seductress in see-through silk negligee. Equal parts vamp and camp, Green is as wanton as she is wicked and every bit as boobtastically bonkers as her role earlier this year in 300: Rise of an Empire. Indeed, between these two films and 2012’s Dark Shadows, no other actress has quite so enthusiastically essayed the kinky compulsions of hate-sex on film.
If A Dame to Kill For was shot in 3D only so that we might better admire Green’s curves cutting through light and shadow, even bursting out of the screen with no clothes on, she’s as fierce and feral as ever. This of course is essential to Green’s unique appeal – that’s she’s so terrifying is all part of the turn on. Often when an actress is described as ‘fearless’ it’s in reference to her willingness to disrobe, but here in a permeant state of undress that few actresses would be able to bare, fearless is the only word to describe what Green accomplishes in the role, using that nakedness to a lend carnal persuasiveness to Ava’s every lie in a way not seen since Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct.
The amount of nipple shots is undoubtedly gratuitous, but it’s countered by the level of self-awareness in the performance, and at the very least feels appropriately impure. In light of her bare-all scenes, any moment of Jessica Alba unconvincingly waving her no nudity clause around while playing a stripper feels less than sinful, and when Green’s not on screen the city lights are that much dimmer.
First published by Vérité Film Magazine on August 26 , 2014