VOD film review: Marlowe
Ivan Radford | On 18, Mar 2023
Director: Neil Jordan
Cast: Liam Neeson, Diane Kruger, Jessica Lange, Danny Huston, Alan Cumming
From Humphrey Bogart and Dick Powell to Elliott Gould and Robert Mitchum, Philip Marlowe is one of the most iconic private eyes ever to crack a case on the big screen. His hard-boiled character, though, is lacking an edge in this disappointing neo-noir.
Directed by Neil Jordan and based on the 2014 novel The Black-Eyed Blonde, the film stars Liam Neeson as Marlowe. He is hired by Clare Cavendish (Diane Kruger), an heiress whose lover, Nico Peterson, has apparently died in a car accident. What ensues is a twisting case that leads Marlowe to all manner of shady people, including those linked to the film studios where Nico worked and the owner of the nightclub where the body was found.
The cast is suitably stacked, with Jessica Lange enjoying herself as sinister matriarch Dorothy, Danny Huston delivering slimeball charisma as club manager Floyd and Alan Cumming never knowingly understated as suspicious businessman Lou. But while the costumes and production design all look the part, and the actors are just the right balance of knowing and straight-faced, Marlowe never quite sparks into life.
That’s not necessarily Liam Neeson’s fault, as he brings a world-weary, downbeat quality to Raymond Chandler’s detective that suits his age. Rather, it’s the script by William Monahan (The Departed), which tries too hard at every opportunity, to the point where it wades into pastiche when it could be playfully finding new paths through conventions. There’s a surprisingly stilted feel to almost every conversation, with the dialogue so focused on sounding like The Big Sleep or Farewell My Lovely that it forgets to move the plot along or flesh out the characters – a heated dinner table argument feels cartoonishly over-the-top, while the initial meeting between Marlowe and Cavendish is hijacked by a laboured riff on what her name is.
The result is a slow, disappointing detective story that doesn’t live up to its protagonist’s reputation – this incarnation of the hard-boiled detective is a sadly soft-boiled affair.