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Review: Marlowe

February 15, 2023

By John Corrado

★½ (out of 4)

In Marlowe, Liam Neeson stars as a private detective sniffing about the sleazy side of the movie industry in late-1930s Los Angeles, taking on a role inspired by author Raymond Chandler’s detective character Philip Marlowe, who first appeared onscreen played by Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep.

The idea of casting Neeson in this role, in a neo-noir period piece set within the Hollywood studio system of 1939 no less, is an appealing one. Which just makes the disappointing quality of director Neil Jordan’s Marlowe all the more frustrating.

Based on John Banville’s 2014 novel The Black-Eyed Blonde, which has been adapted by screenwriter William Monahan (The Departed), the film’s intentionally pulpy dialogue does feature the occasional witty one-liner as well as a handful of amusing bon mots, but it’s a sluggishly paced effort overall that struggles to ever really ignite.

In a classic noir setup, the film finds Neeson’s Philip Marlowe getting hired by Claire Cavendish (Diane Kruger), the wealthy daughter of a former movie star (Jessica Lange), to investigate the disappearance of her ex-lover, a low-level player in the film industry who has mysteriously gone missing. While Marlowe very much tries to be a throwback picture, and occasionally offers mild enjoyment as such, Jordan’s film also struggles to find the right tone between slight camp and po-faced Old Hollywood tribute.

The acting in general is hit or miss, with Lange and Alan Cumming seeming to have the most fun with their campy supporting roles. Neeson is serviceable in the lead, but appears somewhat tired in the few moments of action (this is his 100th film, after all). Despite the best efforts of the production team and costume designers, the overly lit cinematography also doesn’t quite capture the look of the time period (the outdoor scenes were shot in Barcelona barely standing in for Los Angeles, with the interior scenes shot in Ireland), and the film has a sort of TV movie sheen that doesn’t do the material any favours.

Despite having a director, writer, and lead actor who can all be talented, Marlowe is unfortunately a bit of a cinematic dud. The pacing is too slack, and no real suspense is allowed to build over the 109 minute running time. There is a tighter, sharper version of this story that could have been told, but aside from a handful of individual scenes, we struggle to maintain enough interest in the characters or story to really care about putting the pieces of this mystery together. It’s a tired effort overall, that unfortunately fails to really reignite much passion within the classic film noir genre.

Marlowe opens exclusively in theatres on February 15th. It’s being distributed in Canada by VVS Films.

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