Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
Sin City's tourism board must have a terrible time attracting travelers. Just imagine the failed slogans:
"What happens in Sin City, stays on your police record and conscience for the rest of your life."
"Sin City: Come for the fun—stay for your funeral!"
"Our hotels don't cost an arm or a leg—just a finger or two. Maybe an eyeball as well."
Indeed, Sin City is no more attractive now than it was nine years ago when moviegoers first stepped into this black-and-white, über-noir world, which is based on Frank Miller's ink-dark graphic novels. In fact, it's only gotten uglier.
Oh, the place isn't entirely a crime-riddled wasteland built upon the bones of its unfortunate predecessors. The affluent conclave of Sacred Oaks seems like a neighborhood you could, at least, jog through without body armor. But even that posh suburb is still rotten to the core—just as wicked (and arguably more so) than the city's run-down Projects or prostitute-powered Old Town. Wherever you turn in Sin City, Death is there, ready to sell you a stolen watch. The few who dare set foot in its limits must be ready to push theirs. And in a series of interlocking stories, we see some do just that.
Hotshot gambler Johnny never loses, he says, and his satchel full of coin proves it. But when he sidles into a "friendly" game of poker with Senator Roark, his luck takes a dramatic turn for the worse.
Dwight's a grim private eye, taking pictures of city sleaze. But his career takes a strange turn when old flame Ava slides back into his life, begging him to rescue her from her rich, abusive husband.
Exotic dancer Nancy writhes on stage, drinking vodka and choking on memory. Hartigan, the only man she ever loved, is dead. He took his own life with the tug of a trigger, but she blames another—Senator Roark. And as her sanity slowly sweats out as she dances for dimes, she nurses a secret fantasy: To give the senator some lead of his own to chew.
And then there's Marv, huge and hulking, the city's own surly angel of death. Never mind that he got the chair in the first Sin City movie: A little electricity can't keep a guy like that down, certainly not with the sequel's sneaky sense of time. And Marv, for all his failings, will see that some form of twisted "justice" is meted out in the only way it can be on these black streets: terminally.
Bits of morality, while often tortured, lurk around Sin City's corners. Marv, for one, serves as Nancy's protector when she dances—making her, in the movie's estimation, the safest person around. And when he sees some college punks making a sport out of burning homeless people alive, he puts a stop to it. Marv risks his life for his friends more than once.
Dwight, too, tries to do the honorable thing when Ava comes to him for help. This leads to a whole bevy of unfortunate decisions, but his intentions at least begin with basic chivalry.
Sin City is, naturally, full of sin, with its very name drawing attention to that fact. Somebody references hell. Somebody else clutches a cross after giving money to a down-on-his-luck Johnny.
Sin City is a horrible place for women. Every female character makes a living through sex. Some are prostitutes, many of whom dress in exotic, S&M-tinged gear. Some are exotic dancers: Nancy puts on her stage show in a variety of ultra-revealing outfits, sometimes explicitly mimicking sexual acts. Some, like Ava, may not be precisely paid for sexual favors—and yet she still manages to turn them into a career. One young lady claims to be the victim of horrific sexual torture, which will one day culminate in her death.
We see these women engage in graphic and sometimes rough sex—the scenes filled with sensual sounds and movements, invoking bondage, submission, sadism and masochism. Misogyny is practically a given.
While women do their share of killing here (which the movie's makers, I imagine, would argue are acts of misshapen empowerment), there's a palpable sense that women are put on this planet to be used—and abused.
Ava, for her part, is naked for about half the movie. She swims, bathes and lounges in beds in her birthday suit. Her breasts and backside are on frequent display, and sometimes she's seen fully from the front, her body artistically stylized. Once, when she deigns to drape something over herself, it can be seen right through. Other women are shown wearing cartoonishly risqué outfits, panties or the shortest of shorts, pairing them with tight, cleavage-accentuating tops.
"Nobody's killing anybody," Dwight says. "Not while I'm around."
Well, Dwight's dead wrong, and Sin City's postmortem body count would be enough to populate a reasonably sized zombie village. People are dispatched through a variety of abysmal means. And while the violence here is highly stylized—sprays of white blood emanating from someone's neck instead of the dark red stuff we typically see in R-rated killfests—that doesn't lessen the visceral impact one whit. Each beheading or dismemberment was accompanied by gasps and groans from the audience I watched the movie with.
People are killed by bullet, blade, arrow and rope. Several are beheaded (white noggins flying off bodies, white blood gushing). Others have their skulls skewered (and they sometimes freeze comically before falling). People are shot in the eye. When a man's face is blown off, he's left with a visage that's little more than a mass of blood punctuated by a lidless and lolling eyeball. Another dude's eyeball is plucked out of its socket and played with by his attacker.
People suffer serious car wrecks and are thrown into the air via explosions. One guy is shot 11 times before finally succumbing. A cop shoots his partner in the face before turning the gun on himself. A woman is killed, and then her hands and head are delivered unceremoniously to her beau. Someone is punched to death. A head gets crushed between two massive hands. Throats are slit. The ground is sometimes strewn with dead bodies.
It's the people who survive for a while, though, who we end up feeling the most sorry for. One character is beaten badly in the back of a car before someone takes a pair of pliers to his fingers, breaking them one by one. He's then shot in the knee. He eventually finds his way to a drunk backroom doctor who callously digs around for the bullet and sets the man's fingers by splinting them with popsicle sticks.
A woman head-butts a mirror, gashing her forehead. Then she uses a shard of the broken glass to further gouge her own face. (We later see her covered in stylistic stitches.) Another lady is slapped full in the face. Several are threatened. Hartigan, who killed himself in the last movie, haunts this sequel, a star-shaped bullet wound desecrating his pate.
Crude or Profane Language
A small handful of f-words and a half-dozen s-words. God's name is jammed up with "d--n" three or four times. Christ's name is abused once. Vulgar references to body parts include "d--khead" and "p-cker." We also hear "a--," "b--ch," "b--tard" and "h---."
Drug and Alcohol Content
That backroom doctor guzzles alcohol and injects a drug into his veins to help him steady his hands. (It doesn't work, but he doesn't know it.) Marv has a memory-impairing condition, and we see him swallow lots of medication to help curb it. (That doesn't seem to help either.) He also drinks quite a bit, and Dwight gets him loaded on "liquid darkness" before the two go out for a night of violence. Nancy guzzles vodka, sometimes on stage.
We see other people drink various forms of alcohol as well—though the movie does suggest that all this drinking is bad. Dwight at first abstains from liquor, downing ginger ale in the hopes of keeping a "monster" inside him from coming out.
Heroes and villains alike smoke cigarettes and cigars. Marv is rarely without one to chew on, while Senator Roark puffs on his stogie with infernal energy.
Other Negative Elements
"This rotten town, it soils everybody," Nancy tells us. And it's true. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For asks audiences to root for bad characters to do bad things to even worse characters. There's lying, cheating, gambling and a whole lotta corrupting going on.
"Hell is watching the people you love in pain," Hartigan tells us. And as a ghost, watching his beloved Nancy suffer and mourn him, that's exactly where he believes he is.
But really, I wonder if Sin City itself is hell, in a way. It reminds me a little of the grey town in C.S. Lewis' The Great Divorce—people living in a dark and joyless place, surrounded by their own sin and fear. They can leave if they want: heaven itself beckons. And yet many are simply unwilling to move.
You see that same reluctance to leave in Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. Johnny comes willingly to this terrible town. And despite being given ample opportunity to walk away, he can't. Or, rather, he won't. Dwight returns to his old haunt in Old Town, saying it was a mistake to ever try to leave for something better. Senator Roark positively revels in the squalor all around him—this cesspool that he rules. And that reminds me of a character in yet another book—Satan in John Milton's Paradise Lost: "Here we may reign secure, and in my choice to reign is worth ambition though in hell: Better to reign in hell, than serve in heaven."
Hell is a place most of us are still actively trying to avoid, though. Which makes me think that this cinematic depiction of said sordid spot is also best avoided. This city of sin is a place filled with soulless sex and mindless violence, a locale where crime and punishment are almost one.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Mickey Rourke as Marv; Jessica Alba as Nancy; Josh Brolin as Dwight; Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Johnny; Rosario Dawson as Gail; Bruce Willis as Hartigan; Eva Green as Ava; Powers Boothe as Senator Roark; Dennis Haysbert as Manute; Ray Liotta as Joey; Christopher Meloni as Mort
The Weinstein Company
August 22, 2014
November 18, 2014