Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Thoughts on A Dame to Kill for

So, I finally sat down and watched Sin City: A Dame to Kill for. I've heard that critics hated it. However, it isn't terrible.

The opening several minutes are admittedly not great, with far too much overcooked voiceover dialogue being shoveled at us for a prolonged period of time. (Yes, I know that overcooked dialogue is part of the point of Sin City, but this just gets tedious here.).

Additionally, frequently the film lingers far too long over Jessica Alba. Personally, I just think the woman lacks any real talent at all, and I can't stand watching her stripper-style dancing. It's tacky, but not in the right way. She's just awful.

Finally, the Marv character just feels terribly overused throughout.

Those things being said, I do like Nancy's transformation towards the close of the film. I may not like Alba, but the framing of these sequences is good.

Also, I think Joseph Gordon-Levitt and the character that he is portraying is just super fun. He's an actor that I feel on and off about, but I really like him here for some reason.

But the real reason that I find the film "not terrible" is because of its paralleling of two plotlines, one concerning the femme fatale and one concerning the damsel in distress, which suggests complementary characteristics shared between them. This seems especially appropriate to me given the Sin City series's reliance (maybe overreliance -- maybe -- I'm very torn on this because of the nature of the genre) on the damsel in distress as a central motivator for so many of its characters' activities and the centrality of the femme fatale and the damsel in distress as a motivator for the actions of the protagonists of film noir or hardboiled fiction on the whole (see the opening paragraph or two of Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep for a plainly obvious allusion to and parody of the hardboiled detective's concern with and for helpless women, as Philip Marlowe ruminates briefly about the image of a knight in the process of rescuing a fair damsel).

I can see that many film critics might get twisted up about the extreme and typological representations of women in general in the series. Certainly, it relies on traditions and stereotypes, traditions and stereotypes that are historically common to noir and hardboiled fiction and that often bug contemporary critics. That being said, I don't think the film is entirely stupid about interrogating these typologies (as a matter of fact, I think it is clearly the central interest of A Dame to Kill For, if not of the first Sin City, too).

Much of the framing around Eva Green in the role of the femme fatale is really, really smart. Several shots that shortly follow a sex scene between the characters Ava (Green's character) and Dwight (Josh Brolin), I think are exceptional, conveying everything that the film wants to say through the relationship between the bodies of Ava and Dwight, all framed tightly within the borders of the camera's lens, and not requiring any dialogue or exposition to do so (Dwight's submissiveness is expressed very starkly in particular, for example). I don't know if these moments are the result of Miller's panel arrangement in the comic book or Rodriguez's direction, but in either case, I think that the framing of images (objects, bodies, etc.) in order to clearly represent ideas is impressively executed here. When Rodriguez is on, which he is in Desperado and the absurdly fun Planet Terror, he is one of the best directors out there for getting these moments right.

Additionally, the film wants to interrogate the connection of the femme fatale to what may be similar kinds of characters (witches, succubi, and the like) from various folklore traditions, and having recently read Ed Brubaker's Fatale and being underwhelmed by a similar effort to do so in comic book form, I find Sin City's expression of these ideas more interesting, maybe mostly because the movie deals with this idea in starker, more focused terms.

And that actually is the truth about the movie. As I said, it isn't terrible, but I'm not sure that I want to say that it's "good" either. I still do think that a lot of it is interesting, though, and I am often enough more engaged by "interesting" than I am by perfection.

Oh, and A Dame to Kill for is a great title. What else is worth killing for?

1 comment:

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