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MOVIE REVIEW: SIN CITY 2: A DAME TO KILL FOR - It's a killer!

movie stills from SIN CITY 2: A DAME TO KILL FOR
movie stills from SIN CITY 2: A DAME TO KILL FOR
The Weinstein Company

A perfect blend of classic film noir and graphic novel, SIN CITY 2: A DAME TO KILL FOR is deliciously decadent. The sequel to the 2005 “Sin City” by Robert Rodriguez and graphic novelist Frank Miller, the pair reunite nine years later for this action-packed explosion of raw and visceral lust, corruption, vengeance and violence that dazzles, delights, intrigues, and celebrates the noir thrillers of the 30's, 40's and 50's on screen and on the pulp page.

movie still from SIN CITY 2: A DAME TO KILL FOR
The Weinstein Company

Once again based in Kadie’s Club Pecos in the heart of Sin City, Rodriguez and Miller play with the “Sin City” timeline and weave together multiple vignettes with the connective tissue being killer-for-hire Marv, who finds himself in all number of seductively dangerous situations, while tying everyone and everything together for a cohesive textured story that leaps off the screen (literally and figuratively as the best way to see SIN CITY 2 is in 3D). With chapters consisting of “Nancy’s Last Dance”, “Just Another Saturday Night”, the centrally themed “A Dame To Kill For” and new to the SIN CITY world and written just for the film, “The Long, Bad Night”, albeit a tad convoluted at times with the revolving door of characters and meld of prequel and sequel themes, the intrigue and mystery is thick as thieves in the night while powerful visual imagery entices and seduces with every frame.

We meet up again with Nancy Callahan who is still deep in mourning for the love of her life, Detective John Hartigan. A gal with a plan, or so she thinks, she’s out to get the man who killed Hartigan - Senator Roark. But will she succumb to self-destructive grief, guilt and drunkenness first? Dwight McCarthy is back battling his own demons and backstory while trying to move forward and move on, distancing himself from the sultry and dangerous femme fatale, Ava Lord. Like Nancy, will Dwight fall victim to his own weakness when it comes to Ava? And then there’s Johnny. With a youthful look and over-compensating cockiness, Johnny never loses; or so he thinks, until he goes toe-to-toe with the all powerful Roark. Dotting the lush black and white landscape are other characters, like Manute, Ava’s bodyguard; a gal named Goldie who catches Johnny’s eye; hooker-come-lately Sally and her john Joey; hard-ass and oh-so-sexy Gail; detectives Mort and Bob, one of whom falls prey to Ava’s charms; and a back-alley doc named Kroenig who uses popsicle sticks as medical tools.

Casting is impeccable with many returning actors from “Sin City”, including Powers Boothe as Roark. A much expanded role this go-round, Boothe commands the screen. From voice to physical presence, he is a force to be reckoned with on all counts. Jessica Alba returns as Nancy as does Rosario Dawson who is more kick-ass than ever as Gail while showing a previously unseen tenderness and soft spot when it comes to Dwight. A side perk: every Dominatrix in town will be looking for Gail’s garb for their own personal wardrobe. Although killed off in the first film, as we all know, there’s always a way to bring characters back from the dead and Miller and Rodriguez waste no time in returning Marv, Hartigan and Goldie, again played by Mickey Rourke, Bruce Willis and Jaime King, respectively. Josh Brolin captivates as Dwight while Juno Temple delights as Sally. Not to be overlooked are Christopher Meloni and Jeremy Piven who, together with Ray Liotta’s strong comic notes as Sally’s wimp of a john, add strong notes of dark humor as bumbling genre exaggerated gumshoes Mort and Bob.

But the real “stars” here are Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Eva Green as Johnny and Ava. A completely new character to the SIN CITY world is Gordon-Levitt’s Johnny. Working together with Rodriguez and Miller to create the character and the storyline, the trio collaborated to magnificent result. And talk about a perfect performance! Gordon-Levitt was made for film noir. He has the look, the persona, the cool, slickness. He could step into any noir film from Gordon Wills or Richard Wallis and be welcomed with open arms by TCM fans everywhere. Likewise, Eva Green. The classic noir femme fatale, Green is silken with a languid sultry seductiveness that has you wondering where the dream ends and nightmare begins with Ava Lord. The subject of some of the film’s true “money shots”, the play of extreme light and dark contrast is used to its best suggestive advantage with the flawless Green. And when it comes to dialogue delivery, Green oozes sex with every syllable.

Ultra-violent and action-filled, Rodriguez and Miller go all out this go-round pushing the envelope far beyond what we saw in “Sin City”. Capturing the defining essence of hallmark noir - tragic romance, betrayal, darkness, guilt and a femme fatale to die and kill for - SIN CITY 2 is the perfect economy of expression with graphic impact. Rodriguez and Miller truly embrace the noir ideal of a black slate on which we write our ills and then erase them clean, creating a fully self-contained hyper-stylized reflection of cultural predilections.

To create the visual look and overall tonal bandwidth, Rodriguez “went ahead and pushed it further towards the book, especially with the more abstract drawings and [Miller’s] graphic approach to it. It’s just eye-popping. . .We did it in 3D because I just thought that would lend so much better to a graphic novel because of the absence of information.” With pops of the distinctive Max Factor signature 1940's red against the stark intense contrast of saturated black blacks and white, more often than not Rodriguez opts for a liquified almost neon white for blood-letting, grappling with sexual metaphor in the process.

Key to the look and feel of SIN CITY 2: A DAME TO KILL FOR, and quite honestly, the juiciest aspect of the film as a whole, is the cinematography and particularly, the lighting which is dynamic and dramatic, celebrating metaphor of good and evil, dark and light, in virtually every shot. Facial half-light is particularly effective and starkly lush. According to Rodriguez, who does his own cinematography and does so with efficiency thanks to a green screen set, “The lighting takes time. When we’re on the set, fortunately, we can move pretty quickly because I’m lighting just the actors. . . You light them with the set in mind, which is where the graphic novels are so great. You already know where your key is going to be and where there might be a back light. And I know how to manipulate the images quite a bit. If I shoot a certain way, I can add a lot of shadows later. . .[I]t gives you a lot of freedom later, to play with all the lighting and get it right.” The visual and emotional result is both salacious and stunning.

SIN CITY 2: A DAME TO KILL FOR is a killer.

Directed by Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller
Written by Frank Miller based on graphic novels by Frank Miller

Cast: Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Josh Brolin, Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Eva Green, Powers Boothe, Rosario Dawson, Ray Liotta, Christopher Meloni, Jeremy Piven, Dennis Haysbert, Stacy Keach, Juno Temple, Christopher Lloyd, Jaime King

SIN CITY 2: A DAME TO KILL FOR leaps onto the big screen on August 22, 2014