When Sin City came out, seemingly eons ago, the idea of a film being almost entirely CG was something that hadn’t really been done to such an extent. It was visually groundbreaking, technologically breathtaking, and for fans of film noir, exhilarating. A Dame To Kill for is still visually arresting and mega-noir, but its impact comes more from the performance of Eva Green than anything else.
A Dame To Kill For is composed of four interlocking plot arcs – two adapted from Frank Miller’s graphic novels; two written for the film. Some of the arcs take place before the original film, some after. Thus, we meet a tough guy named Dwight (Josh Brolin) but he doesn’t look anything like Clive Owen; thus, we see Mickey Rourke’s Marv in action even though he died in the first film.
The two most important plots follow Dwight and stripper Nancy Halloran (Jessica Alba). Dwight answers a call for help from Ava (Eva Green), the titular dame to kill for. He knows he’s a chump for doing so – she’s already used him badly once before. Nancy, haunted by the memory of her dead lover, Hartigan (Bruce Willis in an eerie cameo), seeks vengeance on corrupt politician Roarke (Powers Boothe) – the man responsible for Hartigan’s death (even if he didn’t pull the trigger himself).
Then there’s Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), the cocky gambler who comes to town to make a name for himself – and Marv…
A Dame To Kill For, like its predecessor, is more Spillane/Mike Hammer than Chandler/Philip Marlowe. It moves at pace that matches the film’s casual brutality – a pace that, like the stories being told and the performances being given, is pretty much one speed: full tilt. It’s perverse, petty and nasty – and over-the-top crazy. Which, in this case, is a good thing. If it slowed to take a breath, it might lose its audience.
Shot in brilliant black and white – with occasional swaths of primary colors – A Dame To Kill For serves more to suggest that members of its cast belong in the noir milieu.
Green plays Ava like the frail with a brain that became popular in hard-boiled detective pulps, using her body and sensuality to get whatever she wants: a rich husband, said rich husband’s murder, the mindless obedience of a cop or a tough guy – it’s all the same to her. It doesn’t hurt that Green smolders like Ava Gardner one moment and plays helpless like Mary Astor the next.
Rourke is still brilliant as the massive Marv – a wrecking machine on two legs, but a wrecking machine with a heart (no one bothers Nancy while he’s in his usual seat at Kadie’s). It would be easy to see him as an aging Sam Spade, or Philip Marlowe.
Gordon-Levitt already has a noir to his credit – Rian Johnson’s hard-boiled high school movie Brick – but A Dame To Kill for shows that he’s got what it takes to play a more mature noir character.
A Dame To Kill For was written and directed by Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez. In the nine years since Sin City, it would appear that neither has really progressed much, but A Dame To Kill for is still an adrenaline shot – just a smaller one.
It wants to be more than it is, but what it is is still pretty good.
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