Marlowe (A PopEntertainment.com Movie Review)
Updated: Feb 21
Starring Liam Neeson, Diane Kruger, Jessica Lange, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Ian Hart, Colm Meaney, Daniela Melchior, François Arnaud, Seána Kerslake, Danny Huston, Alan Cumming, Patrick Muldoon, Ian Hart, Jose Manuel Maciá, Roberto Peralta Maya, Stella Stocker, Michael Strelow, Julius Cotter, Mitchell Mullen and Kim DeLonghi.
Screenplay by William Monahan.
Directed by Neil Jordan.
Distributed by Open Road Films. 110 minutes. Rated R.
It takes a certain amount of bravery to play a character who has previously been portrayed by Dick Powell, Robert Mitchum, Elliott Gould and particularly Humphrey Bogart. Liam Neeson is a good enough actor that he should be up to the challenge – despite his recent wallowing in cheesy action features – however, he never feels really comfortable playing Raymond Chandler’s noir gumshoe Philip Marlowe.
Although the character has been at the center of many Hollywood classics like The Big Sleep, Farewell My Lovely, The Long Goodbye and Murder My Sweet, Marlowe is the first major (well sort of major) motion picture to feature the character in over 40 years. Also, Marlowe is not based on one of the classic Raymond Chandler tales, instead it is based on the 2014 novel The Black-Eyed Blonde by Benjamin Black, one of many Marlowe novels authorized by Chandler’s estate.
What can you say? Marlowe is no Big Sleep.
It’s okay, even perhaps a good thing, to try to resurrect a mostly forgotten style like film noir. Sadly, despite having the trappings of the genre – tough guys, femme fatales, private dicks in smart fedoras, twisty crime narratives – Marlowe mostly loses the noir. Instead, it’s a sepia-toned museum piece, one that appreciates the dark style but cannot seem to capture or advance it. (Like, say, a better backwards-gazing noir tribute like Chinatown.)
Instead, Marlowe trots out the old cliches in a slightly detached but stylish manner and never quite engages its audience.
Also, the very tonally necessary role of the city of Los Angeles in the 1930s – so important for both the genre and also this specific story – is played by Barcelona, which is a beautiful city, but looks little like LA.
As these films so often do, Marlowe opens with the gumshoe being approached in his office by a mysterious blonde with a case – one that is not exactly what she makes it seem. I’m a huge fan of Diane Krueger as an actress, but she feels uncomfortable in the femme fatale role of Clare.
But then again, as stated earlier Neeson is a terrific actor, but also wrong for Marlowe. He is honestly a little too old for the role. Also, his character is too accommodating, too prone to apologize, too timid – at least until the script required that Marlowe administer a Taken-style beat down on assorted bad guys. (Phillip Marlowe is known for his tough guy exterior, but not necessarily for fighting his way through a case.)
The rest of the sterling cast comes out looking better. Danny Huston and Alan Cummings are suitably oily as local gangsters, and Jessica Lange pretty much steals the picture as Clare’s mother, an aging and very cynical film star who is used to getting her way.
The mystery itself is strangely very complex and yet at the same time not overly intriguing or surprising. However, despite the fact that most of this doesn’t look all that much like Los Angeles, the film looks great. It is directed with workman-like economy by Neil Jordan (Mona Lisa, The Crying Game).
Listen, I think it’s great that someone decided to revive the mostly moribund film noir genre. And frankly, Marlowe may have been easier to take had they just made it about a random LA shamus, rather than making it about one of the most iconic names in the genre. At the very least, critics and fans would not feel as much need to compare it to the stories that came before.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2023 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: February 15, 2023.