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A Gritty Stroll Down the Dark End of the Street
on April 27, 2000
In 1986, Frank Miller ushered in a new age in comic writing and illustration with his landmark "Batman: The Dark Night Returns." A couple of years later, he reinvented the form again with his gritty return to Daredevil. To almost no one's surprise, Miller completely retooled the medium with his take on film noir in "Sin City".
How radical was this alteration in Miller's artistic vision?
In a world of garish, computer-derived colors, Miller constructed a world of broad swaths of black ink. In a medium dominated increasingly by splash pages linked by plots beneath the sophistication level of your average porno movie, Miller delivered a compelling satire of modern urban existence. In an industry increasingly convinced of its own sociological significance, Miller crafts a tale so over-the-top in its violent imagery as to eradicate any claim to stature amongst the Starbucks set.
How do you follow up the outstanding statement that was "Sin City"?
"A Dame to Kill For" finds Miller clearly less infatuated with the vision that fairly screamed from his pen in the prior tale. The art, while still visually stunning in places and always crafted with a cinematic flair, seems somehow rushed here, as though the languid love affair he previously had with his imagery has cooled to a Thursday night quickie.
The plot involves a sleazy photographer whose past returns to haunt him in horrific fashion. As in the best film noir, nothing is as it initially seems, motives are rarely clear, and the hero takes a terrific beating along the way to both body and sensibility. Unfortunately, Miller's portrayal of the villain here is less nuanced than his past work, detracting from the psychological reality he is apparently trying to convey.
This is an eminently forgivable sin in the noir world. Did anyone truly believe that Bogart's Spade really wouldn't pack Mary Astor off to the big house at the end of "The Maltese Falcon"? Did anyone not find the melodramatic finale to "D.O.A." to ultimately ring hollow? Not likely, but neither did this diminish these films' stature as classics of the noir genre; after all, the noir world is in the final analysis a distorted vision of our own painted solely from the duskier hues of the palette.
While not a story to die for as was "Sin City", "A Dame to Kill For" is still a story well worth your time.