Dame: dynamic yet tired
There’s no question that Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is a visually stunning piece of work, the sort of film DVDs were made for – you’ll find yourself wanting to freeze-frame multiple images throughout to simply study their composition and appreciate the attention to detail that has gone into them. Utilizing green-screen effects, traditional animation and computer-generated images, the world the directors have created still seems as fresh and vibrant as Sin City did some nine years ago, which is rather surprising what with all of the technical advances that have been made since then. Unfortunately, similar innovations have not been made where Miller’s stories are concerned. Hoary when they were used in the original comic books released in the early ’90s, the film noir tropes at play here are as stale as the visuals are fresh and they ultimately undo this production. Their familiarity, as well as the unnecessary graphic violence, bred more than a bit of contempt in this viewer.
Three tales make up the film and all take place in Basin City, where men are hard, the women loose and daylight nonexistent. Whereas everyone goes to Rick’s in Casablanca, all roads lead to Kadies in this burg, a run-down strip joint where the once vibrant but now bitter dancer Nancy (Jessica Alba) works. Seems she’s haunted by her dead savior and only true love Hartigan (Bruce Willis), and plans revenge on his killer, the corrupt Senator Roark (Powers Boothe). We see how vicious this man-of-the-people is when he and his thugs take care of a young cardsharp by the name of Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who’s cleaned him out at the poker table. That the young man might want his own taste of vengeance after he’s had his fingers broken and been shot and left for dead in a gutter goes without saying. He’s not too bright but he looks like a brain surgeon next to Dwight (Josh Brolin), a private eye who allows himself to get in deep once more with his old flame, Ava (Eva Green), who wants nothing more than to manipulate him to her own end.
The film’s slick look serves as a distraction from the well-worn story and for a while, the stark, washed-out black, silver and white tones with the occasional splash of vibrant color seems to be enough. The ballet-like fighting, the slow-motion action and the striking slivers of white light that accentuate the dark world and actions of its characters are bold visual compositions that you can’t help but sit up and pay notice to, so much so that this is one of the few recent films worthy of seeing in 3-D. However, it all becomes too much in a single moment – when local thug Marv (Mickey Rourke) rips an eyeball out of another character’s skull. From that point on, Miller and Rodriguez know no restraint, assaulting us with too many decapitations, splatters of blood and gaping bullet wounds to count. While the violence is of a stylized nature, it’s rendered in such a callous, overwrought manner that it borders on the offensive and calls so much attention to itself that it takes the audience out of the film in every instance.
That being said, if you’ve seen one film noir, then Dame holds little in the way of surprises anyway. A character is wronged, they seek revenge, it’s enacted in a bloody manner – and that’s about it. This adherence to form doesn’t do the movie any favors. The stories it contains soon become monotonous, breeding indifference and ultimately boredom in the viewer. Like so many of the scantily clad women it contains, Dame is something to behold but it soon becomes apparent that little lies beneath its surface.
Contact Chuck Koplinski at firstname.lastname@example.org.