Directed by Neil Jordan.
Starring Liam Neeson, Diane Kruger, Jessica Lange, Danny Huston, Alan Cumming, Ian Hart, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Daniela Melchior, Patrick Muldoon, Colm Meaney, Seána Kerslake, Mitchell Mullen, and François Arnaud.
In the late 1930s, Bay City, a brooding, down-on-his-luck detective, is hired to find the ex-lover of a glamorous heiress.
Let’s ignore the literary influence of Marlowe for a moment. With no frame of reference for the source material, this is a detective noir narrative set in 1939 California with a World War II backdrop, involving everything from corrupt studio ambassadors, drug smuggling, gangsters, love affairs, missing persons, and a mother-daughter feud.
Somehow, director Neil Jordan (who has fallen off in recent years, having once directed classics such as The Crying Game and Interview with the Vampire) fails to find anything beyond basic intrigue in any of those threads. The production design does a decent job of evoking the times, but that doesn’t matter when most of the film is watching a sleuth trudge from location to location, blandly asking questions without any cinematic appeal or engagement. Marlowe is a stiff and dry exercise, which should be impossible considering everything in its seedy tale of mystery and crime.
This failure is made all the more impressive when one considers the origins of the fictional Philip Marlowe private investigator character (here, played by a Liam Neeson who frequently appears to have just taken sleeping medication) created by Raymond Chandler, with this specific narrative based on John Banville’s novel The Black-Eyed Blonde.
Unfamiliar with that particular story, one has to assume that it pops off the page (there has to be some reason these stories are revered, and why Liam Neeson playing the detective is somewhat noteworthy) and that screenwriter William Monahan dropped the ball in grasping the purpose, motives, and struggles of the characters. Everything here is routine and perfunctory, unspooling with the excitement of falling asleep to infomercials.
Clare Cavendish (Diane Kruger) has employed Marlowe to find Nico Peterson (François Arnaud), a film set props equipment manager with whom she was having an affair, who has suddenly gone missing. It also turns out that his head was driven over and popped like a grape outside the sketchy club managed by Danny Huston’s Floyd Hanson but that the murder is being covered up and that Clare recently spotted Nico in Tijuana, where his work occasionally took him. Meanwhile, Clare’s faded mom and former Hollywood star Dorothy (Jessica Lange) also unsuccessfully attempts to hire Marlowe, perhaps searching for information on her daughter.
There’s a repetitive cycle to Marlowe that takes the detective to a new character every 10 minutes or so, pointed in the direction of another character, another location, another thread to the mystery, and so on. The film is also disastrously edited, with pointless blink-and-miss sequences of the detective getting his hands dirty in that familiarly and decently, at one point busting the heads of some hedge trimmers. Then there is the outlandishly silly dialogue that would feel more appropriate if the film wasn’t taking itself deadly seriously. Subplots and misdirections also arise, falling as flat as everything else on display.
Admittedly, some answers to the mystery are fairly satisfying. However, that also makes the previous 100 minutes more frustrating. Marlowe is a boring noir flick with no idea how to deepen these characters and the situations they find themselves in. It plays out like a severe misreading of its novel source material and how to translate it to the screen remotely entertainingly. Liam Neeson also probably realized this, considering he and everyone else appear to be sleepwalking through the whole endeavor.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com