There is something cozy, familiar, and exciting about a classic noir movie. However, while Marlowe has all of the tropes one is looking for (femme fatale, roguish main character, good versus evil), this take on Philip Marlowe might be a little too bland for the palate of film noir buffs.
Director Neil Jordan and screenplay writer William Monahan bring us back to the brooding 1930’s Bay City with the talented Liam Neeson (Schindler’s List) taking on the infamous private detective. Joining him on screen are Diane Kruger (Inglorious Basterds), Jessica Lange (Tootsie), Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Farming), Colm Meaney (Layer Cake), Daniela Melchior (Suicide Squad), Danny Huston (Consecration), Alan Cumming (GoldenEye), and François Arnaud (Jean of the Joneses).
In Jordan’s version of Marlowe, the titular character is approached by femme fatale Clare Cavendish (Kruger) who is looking for her lover, Nico Peterson (Amaud). Peterson has seemingly disappeared into thin air. Or has he? As with all Philip Marlowe mysteries, the initial case isn’t always the case that he ends up solving. His path to the truth is intertwined with elegant film stars, drug cartels, strange deaths, and tommy guns.
Philip Marlowe (Neeson) isn’t just a private investigator. He’s the private investigator. It is difficult to follow in the footsteps of Humphrey Bogart (The Big Sleep), Robert Mitchum (Farewell, My Lovely), James Garner (the 1969 version of Marlowe), and Elliott Gould (The Long Goodbye). If anyone could do it, it would be Liam Neeson, right?
At first glance, Neeson is a picturesque Philip Marlowe. He’s charming, distinguished, rough around the edges, and could go rogue at any second. With his deep, gravelly voice, he seems like the ideal fit. In Marlowe, Neeson is impulsive and violent. He breaks chairs on the backs of villains. He hands over dead villains to the cops instead of live ones. Screenwriter Monahan treats the character like the hitman Neeson usually plays, rather than a broody, clever private eye.
Despite his roguish charm, his delivery falls a little flat. The character himself admits to “being too old for this,” and the audience would agree as, at the time of Marlowe’s release, Neeson is 70.
The standout performances in the movie are Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Cedric, and Jessica Lange as Dorothy Quincannon. The character of Cedric is the much-needed moral compass as the only other character who has morals is Marlowe himself. Akinnuoye-Agbaje does a great job portraying Cedric as both charming and relatable. The indomitable Jessica Lange brings the bitter and angry Dorothy to life. Lange has portrayed a number of characters who could best be described as aging screen sirens, and she plays them well. She oozes glamour and resentment with each line of dialogue and with each sideways glance.
The gorgeous blondes, witty banter, seedy underbelly of the city, and gangsters are all on screen, but none of these tropes are used to further the genre, nor are they used in interesting ways. Not to mention, the flirtatious quips and seductive love interests are lost on an aging Marlowe.
If viewers are looking for a new and exciting Philip Marlowe or a film noir that pays homage to the genre while also bringing in fresh ideas, they may want to pass on this one. At least, until it is available to stream.