Marlowe – movie review

For a film featuring several brutal murders, Neil Jordan’s Marlowe is oddly bloodless. That’s not to say it’s bad – it has many fine things going for it – but it lacks the grit those familiar with Raymond Chandler’s iconic detective may be expecting.

That could have something to do with the fact the source material wasn’t written by Chandler. Jordan collaborated with Oscar winner William Monahan (The Departed) on the screenplay; but based on the 2014 book The Black-Eyed Blonde by John Banville (writing under the nom-de-plume Benjamin Black). Of course, Jordan himself is an Oscar winner (for The Crying Game) and storied filmmaker. He brings a keen eye to the material and draws some fine performances from his cast; but can’t seem to elevate the material to the lofty heights of his earlier work. Jordan’s other problem of course is that calling the film Marlowe immediately invites comparisons with other Marlowe adaptations, notably Howard Hawks’ seminal The Big Sleep (1946).

The story begins, as all Marlowe stories must, on a steamy Los Angeles day. Marlowe (Liam Neeson) is in his office, the orange-hued afternoon light cutting deep shadows across his face. He’s meeting a new client, the alluring Clare (“like the county”) Cavendish (Diane Kruger). The married Clare is hoping to find her sometime lover, Nico Peterson (François Arnaud), who has mysteriously disappeared. With money no object, Marlowe takes the job. And it soon seems like an easy fee. Marlowe’s old buddy from the police force Joe Green (Ian Hart) tells him that Peterson is in the morgue. He was apparently killed in a hit-and-run outside the exclusive Corbata Club. Open and shut. When Marlowe visits Clare to tell her the news, she calmly responds that can’t be right – because she saw Nico driving in Tijuana after he supposedly died. Clare’s mother, former film star Dorothy Quincannon (Jessica Lange) also takes an interest in Marlowe’s investigation. And he finds more clues when he encounters Peterson’s sister Lynn (Daniela Melchior). With stories not adding up, Marlowe decides to take the matter further; a decision that will put himself and others in grave danger.

Credit where it’s due, the film looks spectacular thanks to cinematographer Xavi Giménez and production designer John Beard. I’m not totally sure about the choice to go with a warm colour palette for what’s ostensibly a noir film; but hey, it worked in Chinatown, so why not. And the mystery surrounding Peterson is just the starting point for a deeper story that goes to some interesting places – although the script meanders somewhat rather than going full-throttle. But I thought the film sadly never stuck the landing. I felt a let down by the ending which seemed both illogical and unnecessary.

Liam Neeson makes a good fit for the character of Marlowe. He has a similar physique to that described in the books, and his world-weary reading hit the mark for me. Diane Kruger is under-served by the script as Clare. Neither really femme fatale nor damsel in distress, she seems to drift in and out of the film. She’s also overshadowed by the character of her mother, a role in which Jessica Lange excels at chewing scenery. Some familiar faces pop up in minor roles, including Danny Huston, Alan Cumming and Colm Meaney.

Hard-boiled Raymond Chandler fans, and even film noir fans, are likely to be left unsatisfied with Marlowe. But for the casual viewer, this could well prove to be a pleasantly diverting couple of hours at the cinema.

David Edwards

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