Sin City: A Dame To Kill For (2014)

Rating: ***
Release Date: 8/22/14
Directors: Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez
Music: Robert Rodriguez
Cast: Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Eva Green, Josh Brolin, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Rosario Dawson, Bruce Willis, Powers Boothe, Dennis Haysbert, Ray Liotta, Christopher Meloni, Jeremy Piven, Christopher Lloyd, Jaime King, Juno Temple, Jamie Chung, Stacy Keach, Julia Garner, Lady Gaga

"Going crazy sounds kinda good right now..."

Sin City corrupts and soils everything. Even little Nancy Callahan (Jessica Alba), who was the only ray of purity and light in an otherwise black cesspool of decadence and decay. Taking place several years after the events in "Sin City" (2005), grief over John Hartigan's (Bruce Willis) death has driven Nancy over the edge, and she starts drinking heavily and plotting revenge against the corrupt Senator Roark (Powers Boothe). But she's not the only one after Roark. A charming and unusually lucky young man named Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) rolls into town with the intent of humiliating Roark in front of his friends, but he doesn't account for how swift and brutal the retaliation is going to be. Meanwhile, a sinister woman from Dwight's (Josh Brolin) past shows up and puts him on a path of self destruction when he falls for her wicked charms and poisonous tongue. His only hope rests with Marv (Mickey Rourke) and the girls from Old Town, but are they any match for Ava's (Eva Green) treachery? The film ends on a somewhat positive note as vengeance is served, but at what cost?

Like its predecessor, this film is a stylish black and white foray into rough sex, gratuitous violence, testosterone fuelled anger and hatred, the wickedness of men and women, and generally nihilistic behavior. While it's not as shockingly outrageous as the original, the presentation seems to be more forcefully in your face this time (perhaps due to the fact that it was shot in 3D). The time frame is also confusing. Nancy's timeline is clearly stated as being four years after Hartigan's death, but Dwight's story seems to take place prior to "Sin City," as Wendy and Goldie (Jaime King) are still alive. I'm not a fan of Eva Green and I don't find her to be particularly attractive, but she gives a spectacular performance as a stone cold manipulative witch with a heart as black as coal. She is the definitive femme fatale taken to extremes. She also spends about half of her screen time completely naked, and the strength of her character combined with the clinical way the camera lingers on her body is rather shocking and overwhelming - even to this jaded viewer. Angelina Jolie was originally attached to the film when it was first announced, but she backed out after becoming pregnant. I can only guess that this role was originally intended for her. Powers Boothe turns in an excellent performance as the despicable Senator Roark, and he nearly steals the show. Mickey Rourke returns as the hard-headed and nigh-invincible Marv, and is delightful to watch. He's also the common thread that runs through the various disjointed storylines. Marv is always there, somewhere in the background...

Jessica Alba is fabulous and deliciously beautiful, and seeing her become corrupted is heart-breaking. It's hard to believe that nine years have passed since the first film came out, and Ms. Alba definitely looks older. Unfortunately, the film brings attention to this fact by using soft focus and blur filters on her face, which are distasteful and distracting. While many of the characters are the same, several of them have been replaced with other actors, which can make things a bit confusing. Josh Brolin replaces Clive Owen as Dwight, which I didn't figure out until afterwards. It would have helped if he'd been wearing the same shoes. Brolin does an excellent job and gives an appropriately blunt and violent performance. Jamie Chung replaces Devon Aoki as Miho, but has embarrassingly little to do. I think I prefer Ms. Aoki's blank stare and emotional disconnection over Ms. Chung's, but the part is so insignificant that it doesn't really matter. Dennis Haysbert replaces Michael Clarke Duncan as Manute, presumably because Mr. Duncan passed away in 2012. He makes an excellent replacement as a physically menacing and well articulated thug. Christopher Meloni also makes quite an impression as Lieutenant Mort, who becomes another unfortunate victim of Ava's toxic influence.

Despite all of these fantastic actors, characters, and performances, the film suffers from a certain sense of malaise. The pacing is even, but a tad slow, and the plot meanders with no real sense of purpose. But maybe that's the point. It's definitely a character driven film, and while all of the characters are defined and driven by a strong sense of purpose, their efforts are ultimately pointless. There is no redemption in Sin City, only suffering and death. Anyone who tries to fight against the system and rise above the filth meets with an ugly and dishonorable end. This bleak outlook of hopelessness and despair permeates every inch of the film, and while I found it entertaining and fun to watch, it left me feeling empty and emotionally worn down.